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On the Water: A nice warm week to end the year

By Staff | Jan 3, 2018

Allen Hughes visiting from Mobile, Alabama, caught this nice 30-inch gag grouper over the holiday week before season closes at the end of the month. Allen was fishing west of Captiva Pass with Capt. Bill Russell. PHOTO PROVIDED

Christmas week brought us daytime temperatures well into the 80s and it looks like we will close out the year with well above average temperatures. Boaters and anglers continue to enjoy warm weather fishing over the holidays, but I have to think eventually we will get into a more typical winter weather pattern.

January is the time many anglers look forward to targeting sheepshead, they are in their prime when the weather is cold and nasty, but some respectable fish were caught over the warm days. Fish to 18 inches were hooked around docks in areas including Punta Rassa, Useppa and Captiva Islands, and Blind Pass. Other areas worth noting for sheepshead included the Matlacha Bridge, Sanibel and Bokeelia piers, plus oyster bars in Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass.

Cut shrimp was the most popular bait, however, fiddler or the small crabs found in oyster clumps proved deadly bait for a few anglers. Quarter-ounce white or red jigs tipped with a small piece of shrimp also worked well when lightly bounced across bottom. Pompano were also caught from many of the same areas.

Trout fishing has been sporadic – at times good, at times disappointing. Trout to 22 inches were hooked on low water over sand holes near Buck Key and Galt Island in lower Pine Island Sound, and in north Pine Island Sound over 3 to 6-foot grass flats and sand trenches near Rocky Channel. Also, grass flats and sand bar edges held trout between Captiva and Redfish passes, and near Cabbage Key.

Reds averaging 16 to 21 inches were taken in creeks in southern Matlacha Pass and “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge. Shrimp or shrimp-tipped jigs worked best in the deeper creeks with good tide flow. Reds from 20 to 26 inches were scattered in sand holes and troughs in Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbors eastern shore during the lower stages of tide and moving onto the shallow grass, along shorelines and oyster bars as the tide came in. Cut baits, including pinfish, ladyfish and mullet; live baits (pinfish, shiners, and shrimp); plus a variety of lures and flies took reds up to 28 inches, plus a few large trout.

Above normal temperature brought good catch-and-release snook fishing for many anglers. Snook were caught in the same areas as the redfish and on the same baits, plus several were hooked around structure near the Gulf passes and along shorelines along the gulf islands.

Over the past week, light winds and calm seas made for good fishing in gulf waters. Near shore, artificial reefs, ledges and hard bottom are producing a mix of snapper, sheepshead, mackerel, grunts, sharks, gag grouper and even a few hogfish were reported. Many anglers are either anchoring slightly up current or drifting over structure and dropping live shrimp or squid to the bottom, either on a jig head or knocker rig. Further offshore, red and gag grouper to 12 pounds plus large snapper and grunts were boated in 70 to 90-foot depths.

For a New Year’s Resolution, it’s a good idea to go over your safety equipment and update your fishing rules and regulations. Check the condition and expiration dates of all safety equipment and replace if necessary. Obtain the latest updates of state and federal fishing rules and regulations. Our fishery regulations are constantly changing; it’s an ongoing process to keep up with current rules.

Of course, there are phone apps to get the updates, but that won’t do you any good if the smart phone doesn’t work on the water. It’s a good idea to keep a hard or paper copy onboard just to be sure, plus it comes in handy to identify or check the regulations when you catch one of them odd ball fish you don’t see every day.

Thank you for taking the time to read our column and for sending us pictures of your catch and reports. My family and I wish everyone a safe and Happy New Year. Hope to see you on the water in 2018.

If you have a fishing report of for charter information, please contact us at: Gulf Coast Guide Service, phone: 239-283-7960, Website: www.fishpineisland.com or email: gcl2fish@live.com

Have a safe week and good fishin’.

As a native of Pine Island, Bill Russell has spent his entire life fishing and learning the waters surrounding Pine Island and as a professional fishing guide for the past 18 years.