On The Water: March Madness (for anglers) has begun
It was a good news, bad news week on the water. First, let’s get the bad news over with.
Wind, a very strong east wind, dominated southwest Florida for many days making for some interesting fishing conditions.
Good news, bait fish have arrived with the steady rise in water temperatures. Pilchards and pinfish are once again on grass flats from the Sanibel Causeway through the Sound and into Charlotte Harbor. With the steady intrusion of bait, the fishing action has picked up from inshore waters to kick off the beginning of March Madness for anglers.
In Charlotte Harbor near Bokeelia, Captain Cliff Simer reports a steady rise on Spanish mackerel action. Even on the windy days, the action was good. The key was to get on the backside of the larger sandbars that provided a break from the wind whipped waves in the Harbor. Free-lined pilchards provided constant strikes from mackerel up to twenty-two inches, large ladyfish and small sharks.
On the windy days you had to work for them, but trout up to 20 inches were also caught in potholes north of Cabbage Key. Early in the week, Captain Simer found a few hungry snook with the largest at 29 inches caught and released on live bait in northern Pine Island Sound.
From Saint James, Captain George Grosselfinger advised the snook have been cooperating by giving his clients 15 to 30 hits or strikes per trip. Most are on the small sizes with fish between 28 to 32 inches every so often. One quarter ounce jigs with swim tails were the most productive and a few on top water lures. Fishing both sides of the Pine Island Sound, Captain Grosselfinger reports more activity on the east side.
On my boat, we made the transition to live bait this week. The shiners moved in and we are taking advantage of it. We dealt with strong winds much of the week, but we were able to work around the gusts and catch a few fish.
Trout continue to get bigger; we are beginning to see the first egg bearing females of the New Year as they will begin a spawn cycle in the upcoming weeks. We caught trout averaging 14 to 17 inches on sand/grass patch bottom near Useppa Island in the Sound and larger trout up to 22 inches on oyster bars and potholes along islands while looking for redfish and snook.
Speaking of snook, they are really turning on with the warming water; we are catching a lot of smaller fish from 20 to 25 inches and hooking a few larger fish about every trip. Most of the snook were caught on live shiners while working oyster bars, potholes and shorelines in Matlacha Pass looking for redfish.
Snook season remains closed until September at the earliest. Make sure you practice safe catch and release techniques with them, and if bait fishing, I strongly recommend circle hooks. Circle hooks almost always prevent deeply lodged or gut hooking fish, the circle almost always hook the fish in the corner of the mouth, making the hook removal very easy and non damaging to the fish. I use Owner Mutu-light circle hooks for everything from trout to tarpon and they really are great at providing consistent hook-ups without causing unnecessary damage to the fish.
Redfish was a struggle this week; the winds and low water just made it difficult on my boat. Our best fish measured just shy of 25 inches and was caught on a live shrimp in south Matlacha Pass near the power lines. We also caught smaller reds, below 18 inches, in the southern Pass on live shiners and shrimp. We found action with sharks and Spanish mackerel and I have to think once the wind flattens out, there will be some great action over the deeper flats.
Pompano catches were reported from the Sanibel Lighthouse bar and on the sand bar drop-offs inside Redfish Pass. Slowly bouncing a variety of baits including Silly Willy and Crazy jigs or small yellow pompano jigs tipped with shrimp took fish up to 15 inches.
More tarpon sightings were reported over the week, with the first fish of the year showing up off the south end of Sanibel about a half mile off the beach and small groups of fish also sighted in mid-Pine island Sound. An increasing number of tripletail were sight fished off the beach under the Idle Buoys and near shore crab traps. The east wind made for fairly calm seas within a mile of shore.
Two things happen in March about every year around Southwest Florida; we mentioned both in the first paragraph. Large schools of baitfish arrive from the south into our waters and the predator fish get really hungry, just what anglers have been eagerly anticipating. Also, as we experienced this past week, the month of March is arguably or windiest month of the year. It’s been this way as long as I can remember. There can be some great fishing this month, just plan on some windy days.
If you have a fishing story or for charter information, please contact us at 239-283-7960 or www.fishpineisland.com. Have a safe week and good fishin’.