One of the nation’s best known and beloved wildlife refuges has all the components of a great outdoor experience.
As an addendum to the latest southwest Florida fishing report, here are some helpful, I hope, suggestions for striking red gold. This time of year—late September, October, and especially November—can be the hottest redfish periods. As the bay waters cool and masses of bait fish and bigger shrimp come on the scene, mobs of hungry redfish gang up for a pre-spawn rodeo and will gang up in large schools on the flats, on the beaches, and into the wayback creeks. There are several opinions as to where redfish actually spawn but the pre-spawn feeding frenzy definitely occurs in the early and late fall, depending on water and weather conditions.
Offshore: It's a good time to tour the marks at 3–15 miles out, good weather a tad cooler and less rain. Crews reported good grouper action even with the closure or red grouper. Snapper filled the bill with nice doggies to 3-5 lbs. reported. Guys are asking me to look for cobia on the close marks and I'm all for it. Easy action for smaller but legal snapper, grunts; flounder can be had at the three to five reefs off Ft. Myers Beach-Sanibel; bring lots of shrimp, Spanish sardines, and jigs.
Goliaths are a pleasant pain if you're into a tug-a-war. Tons of sharks and giant jacks. Oversized redfish and bully snook may crash the party, not bad. We're waiting for the bonito and kings to arrive en masse, but there are plenty of Spanish macks whacking spoons, flies, and bait-tipped jigs. A few tarpon are scattered on their migration south; good stuff all the way around.
Tarpon Springs fishing guide Capt. Rich Knox—Absolute Florida Flats Fishing, a guide service on the West Central Florida Gulf Coast for over 23 years—reports very good fall fishing; Redfish, Snook, and now the larger Spotted Sea Trout are beginning to show up after the year’s first baby cool fronts lowered the water temperatures. Mix in the invasion of the spawned bait fish returning to the flats and the big out-of-slot Redfish move inshore to spawn along with the general population of slot fish and smaller residents already here. During this ritual they are feeding heavily on the returning pilchards from offshore; the bigger Spotted Sea Trout and Snook begin to move into the flats and feed heavily too. Overhanging mangrove tree branches along the pothole-laden shoreline on these flats is a great place for them to ambush a fresh-caught pilchard swimming aimlessly along.
Inshore: Weather was a tad iffy much of the week but it's clearing up nicely. We still have to contend with brown water on the flats, that slowed the bite again. The redfish bite should recover by midweek when the waters settles and the green water returns, need salt! The northern end of the region, starting at the midpoint of Pine Island Sound, experienced less brown water influx and stabilized, thus keeping the redfish on a chew. There was plenty of bait at the Sanibel Causeway; that was good since the shrimp were all pinheads; stick to frozen crickets.
It doesn’t take genius to realize that the brown water influx into the bays and saturated feeder creeks need some extra oomph to get the ball rolling. Livebaiters have the luxury of the bait critters natural struggling motion in attempts to escape the hook or flee from predators and seek shelter in more hospitable venues. Boy, that was a long-winded way of saying live baits wiggle around. That said, livies have other attributes such as they exude chemical traces and oils that create an attractive scent trail. Live baits vibrate and some even generate flashes as they reflect surface light. That’s great, so why use anything else?
Inshore: Redfish rodeos are starting but a bit slow where big fish are concerned. My crews boiled some slot fish but at least the numbers were fair to good. Frozen shrimp on jig and cork rigs worked as usual with smallish pins very good as well. Our best bite was on the incoming in San Carlos Bay but got curtailed by a late morning storm front. Got some sterling reports from the northern end of Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor with bull reds reported. Some over-slot hogs were captured in pictures—31-34 inch fish. Snook action remains fair to good with early morning incoming tides the best using threads, pins, and shimmy shad softplastics in the passes. Outgoing tides can be even better, weather permitting. Midnight ramblers scored big on their secret spots, it's in the blood, I guess. Trout reports were scarce and we didn't spend much time hunting down specks.
The redfish are on a pre-fall chow down; crews reported good action throughout the region, especially in Pine Island Sound. Estero Bay has revived after the brown water deluge. Crews scored on double-digit catches of reds with slot fish available. Shrimp-tipped jigs on a popping cork, the old standby. and dead stick head-knocker rigs worked best for the bigger fish with cut bait. Pins, cut snapper, mullet, Spanish sardines, and gobs of frozen all took a share. Outgoing tides were best if you can beat the early afternoon sprinkles; no biggie if you don't mind a free shower, it's relief from the hot afternoons. This weekend will provide incoming tide action with mid and late morning highs.
Inshore- The redfish bite has been hot lately inside John’s Pass. Kianna “Scooter” Lollis won the Old Salts Lady Angler’s tournament’s youth division for redfish with her monster redfish she caught inside John’s Pass fishing the oyster beds that surround the mangrove islands just inland of the John’s Pass bridge. She caught her tournament-winning redfish on a cut pinfish she was fishing on the bottom during an outgoing tide. Kris Stien, a St. Pete local, reported the redfish were slamming his cut finger mullet on an outgoing tide around the John’s Pass bridge before sundown. Kirsten Catalano and her friend were fishing under the John’s Pass bridge at night this past week catching plenty of speckled trout and redfish using shrimp weighted to the bottom.
Kaden and Collin Herrell are two young brothers who enjoy fishing around the pass with their mom and dad. They reported the pompano and flounder bite was going well for their family. They caught the flounder on live shrimp along the bottom and the pompano, ladyfish, and trout were hitting the gold spoon. Their mother even hooked a tarpon while fishing for the ladyfish, but it quickly spit the hook once it realized there was pressure on the line. Angelo Rivero from Largo reported the snook and tarpon bite has been nuts from midnight till around first light. He was catching snook on live whitebait and the tarpon were inhaling ladyfish with cut tails, but they were spooling him left and right due to their enormous size. The mackerel are starting to come into the pass every morning around day break; large schools of live bait are being driven to the surface by large numbers of aggressive mackerel schooling them up to make it easier for the mackerel to tear through the more condensed school.
I like analogies; they’re a great way to get people’s attention and relate to something they appreciate. What better common denominator than football. I’m prejudiced but to me head-knocking, bad boy scrimmages with blood and gnarly, grunting 300 lb. monster men is really the American pastime. Fly fishers are probably baseball fans—the poetry of “balletic” windup and delivery for the perfect pitch, is a thing of beauty; except when intercepted by an equally stunning whoosh and crack of the bat thus sending the ball arcing over the left field fence. Poetry in motion!