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NAPLES — Can you believe this winter? In talking with a number of guides this week, it seems that we haven't had a winter like this since at least 2000.
Water temperatures are ranging from the low- to mid-70s, depending on where you are. Not only are snook now making their appearance known, a fair number of tarpon sightings have been reported. Live bait in the form of pilchards and smaller threads are gathering around offshore structure, and at least one captain has been netting nice-sized pilchards off the beach.
As the month progresses the tides will improve as we move away from the extreme tides of January and early February. More water movement means more feeding fish. Instead of a midday high tide of 1.4 feet, we will be jumping up to 1.8 or 2.2, and those few inches mean a lot in terms of a good bite.
Everything from snook and reds, to sheepshead and pompano, have been reported by inshore fishermen this past week. The snook bite is quickly picking up, and the reds seem to be schooling back up into larger groups than we have seen in the past several weeks. Live bait makes targeting these species even easier. If you can get a live well full of pilchards or threads, then chumming will encourage participation by any species in the area.
This will be the time of year that some of the biggest trout are caught. A huge, 28-inch fish was reported and a number of fish over 20 inches are being landed. On the larger end of the scale, our tarpon season may be on the verge of happening. With the schools of bait arriving and water temperatures warming, the big schools of the bruisers have to be close behind.
Offshore anglers have been happy with the mild temperatures, too. And on a good many days, the wind has been much less than normal for this time of year. This makes a long run offshore a lot more doable than when you have 25 to 30 mph winds to contend with.
Red grouper, gags, mangrove snapper, and amberjacks are the mainstay of the offshore boats at this time of year. An early plus are the king mackerel that are showing up in greater numbers. They will take a surface bait readily, but don't discount a substantial king screaming off with a bait that had been sitting on the bottom just seconds ago.
Speaking of mangrove snapper, some really nice-sized ones are making it to the boat. Other potential keepers are being grabbed on the way up by the many goliath grouper that are all over the bottom structure. Some of these things are the size of a Volkswagen and can pull at least as hard as a car.
Offshore: Capt. Clarence, onboard the "Capt. Marvel," reports that the kings have been showing up within range of the half-day trips. On Sunday afternoon, they picked up two nice kings just 13 miles off the Naples beach. One went 20 pounds and the other hit 25. These fish were hooked while the group were fishing for mangrove snapper with pilchards. Fifteen nice mangroves made it into the box, and a number of gag grouper were released.
On Tuesday, Capt. Tom Robinson headed out for a full-day trip with Pete Ferro and friends. At about 30 miles, Capt. Tom called for the first drop, and the amberjacks fully cooperated.
After numerous battles the guys from Joliet, Ill., put four keepers to 35 pounds into the cooler. Another stop produced a number of catch-and-release grouper, and then they got into the mangrove snapper. Eighteen keepers made it into the box, and quite a few made it into the jaws of some monster goliath groupers. Tommy said they used everything from live shiners and pins to cut threads and squid for bait.
Naples/Estero Bay: With temperatures running about 10 degrees above normal for this time of year, Capt. Todd Geroy has been enjoying some really great fishing.
The warmer weather has marked the return of the bait fish to our area. Both pilchards and small threads are being netted, and the result is fishing like we normally have in March and April.
Terry Hopkins and his daughter Kelley caught and released about 30y reds in the 18 1/2- to 24-inch range using jigs tipped with shrimp, as well as flounder and some nice sheepshead. For the remainder of the week, Capt. Todd used the pilchards on snook that ranged from 20 to 28 inches, as well as some good-sized jack crevalle and trout.
Capt. Tim Daugherty has been working Naples waters with pilchards on recent trips. The snook are showing up more and more each day in many of the near gulf spots. Tim has been chumming them up with live pilchards. Also the reds have been willing to eat the baits and they are running in the 19 to a large 31 inch size. Most of the fish are fairly light in color which mean they are coming in from the gulf. On Tuesdays trip Jon Loehr caught snook, reds and pompano.
Ten Thousand Islands: According to Capt. Stacy Mullendore, the fishing in the islands has been "fantastic." On Saturday in windy conditions, angler Don Ross managed a dozen reds from the mid-slot size all the way to a jumbo 30-incher.
On Monday afternoon, angler Kenny Ray landed five reds and five snook that went from 23 to 30 inches using live bait. Stacy has been catching nice trout and bluefish on the shiners as well. The water is clean on the outside and, as of Tuesday, the temperature was 73 degrees.
Down in Everglades City, Capt. Jeff Legutki has been working the fly for some great catches. On the sunny days, Jeff has been sight fishing for snook and reds using a white streamer. Trout are also quite willing to eat a fly, and on Saturday, Mark Helderman hauled in a six-pound, 28-incher, as well as snook to 29 inches and reds to 25 inches.