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Bait schools have invaded our waters with predator fish nearby

By Staff | Oct 6, 2009

Boy, the change in weather sure felt great – at least for a little while. It’s a good sign of things to come and kicked off the fall migration of both predator and bait fish moving down the coast. I honestly cannot remember a time in my life where there was so much bait fish and such a variety in our waters.

Everywhere you look – inshore, offshore, on the beaches… it doesn’t matter – there is bait everywhere. And about every fish we have caught over the last several weeks has been about as fat as it can get without popping. So the fish are out there… the trick is getting them to eat on a full belly.

Just off the beaches, fishermen were finding the water alive with fish in a frenzy feeding on the huge bait schools. Off Captiva, Spanish mackerel and huge ladyfish were pounding smaller fish like silver sides that were in tightly balled up schools. Small jigs, little spoons and flies got more action that live bait as they were honed in on the small (to small to put on a hook) fish and not really interested in bigger baits.

A little farther south near Knapp’s Point on Sanibel, mackerel was also present as were tarpon and spinner sharks. They were found around pods of thread herring, also the bait of choice for the tarpon and sharks. A couple boats also reported the water turning red with big schools of huge bull reds a short distance off the beach at Sanibel. About any type of bait thrown into the pack resulted in an immediate hook-up. The big reds were also caught under the Sanibel Pier.

Inshore, the schooling redfish are still out there – the trick is finding them. It’s amazing how so many fish can just disappear on some days. One big school was found at mid week on the Burnt Store bar not too far from the entrance to the Marina on the eastern wall of Charlotte Harbor. Schools were also located near Mondongo Island in the northern Sound and north of Regla Island in the southern Sound. Look for them pushing bait schools up on open water bars during the rising tide. The southern end of Pine Island Sound and the back side of Sanibel were good waters for catching reds in the slot averaging 23 to 26 inches. Gold spoons and ballyhoo plugs out fished live bait along the mangroves towards the top of the tide and the beginning of the falling.

Some big snapper are still haunting the inshore waters throughout the Sound. We were grouper fishing in the northern Sound and caught a big snapper that ate a pinfish the size of my hand. We caught a half dozen more that any offshore snapper angler would be proud of. We also caught our first inshore keeper size gag grouper of the fall, a nice 23-incher and threw another back that was just barely undersize. They also went for the large pinfish. It’s a good sign – the grouper are coming!

If you want a challenge, you should go try and catch a big shark in the skinny water. Bull sharks are roaming the flats everywhere throughout the Sound. As a commercial fisherman, I ran across on the water put it “Ray Charles could find a bull shark out here there are so many!” Most are pretty big, too, going five feet or better. Look for mullet schools around the Islands or Keys on the shallow grass flats… you will see them jumping or pushing water (they really get active jumping on the falling tide). The sharks will be nearby – if the water is calm watch for a big push of water or their dorsal fin and tail piercing the surface. No doubt the best method to locate them without spooking would be poling a shallow water skiff; a trolling motor should also do the trick.

Use the same tricks as locating tailing redfish just go with a little heavier tackle and a trace of wire leader once located. I have no doubt a chunk of fresh mullet or ladyfish tossed a good distance ahead of the sharks path will result in a hook-up, but I think the ultimate challenge would be to get one to eat an artificial like a top water lure or better yet a fly. You think a big redfish can scream out some line on the flats – just imagine what a six-foot, 100-pound bull shark can do in skinny water.

I hope somebody takes the challenge and, if you do with success, please share your experience with us!

If you have a fishing story or photo that you would like to share or for charter information please contact us at 239-283-7960 or www.fishpineisland.com. Have a safe week and good fishin’.