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NAPLES — As we continue to enjoy a wonderfully mild winter, the fishing seems to be a little off this past week. Water temperatures did dip somewhat into the low to mid 60s in the mornings, which slows down the bite a bit.
Water quality has been good, with some areas reporting water that is too clear to fish. Offshore, the two-month closure on all grouper started on Feb. 1, and that means the focus will be on snapper, kings, and amberjacks. Inshore, depending on the day and the area being fished, you might hit on a hot sheepshead bite, or even snag a few reds. Find a deeper hole full of trout, and you can end up with a mixed bag of silver and specs to take home for a fish fry.
Red tide, which had been a problem in the Estero Bay area a week or so ago, seems to have popped up in the Marco and Ten Thousand Island areas this past week. It is spotty and you may not have a problem. Not too many dead fish have been seen, quite a difference from the Estero bloom where hundreds of dead mullet washed ashore. Great for the birds, but hard on the nose.
If we can make it through the next several weeks with this nice weather we can move on to spring fishing, and that means snook and reds inshore, and back to red grouper as of April 1. If the water continues warm, we may even see an earlier than normal tarpon migration begin.
Offshore: Capt. Michael Avinon says that the red grouper season ended with the bite still very much on fire. Nice catches of good-sized keeper reds continued right up until the last day of the season. For the next couple of months Capt. Avinon will be concentrating on snapper and amberjack.
On Sunday he ran a half-day trip, and the anglers kept 16 mangs up to 17 inches. On Tuesday's full-day trip, the snapper bite was slow, so Mike moved to the amberjack location, and they ended up with 10 amberjacks up to 45 pounds. They used live blue runners that were caught while fishing for the snappers. He is using cut threadfin herring for the snapper. Capt. Avinion says the snapper bite will improve later in the week.
Ten Thousand Islands: Capt. Bill Jones reports that there are a lot of trout in the deep holes south of Marco. He is finding both specs and silver trout in these holes, but a lot of the specs are shorts.
Along with the trout are quite a few whiting, and they are good-sized fish. Bill is using shrimp-tipped jigs to catch the fish, and he also is finding a few pompano using the jigs. Reds seem to have moved from the outside to the inner islands, and they are hitting shrimp under a cork, but they are scattered. Water temperatures dipped to 60 degrees, and there has been some red tide that has killed bait netted offshore.
Naples/Estero Bay: Fishing in Naples, Capt. Pat Gould says he has been catching quite a number of species using shrimp on a jig or shrimp under a cork. Lots of small sheepshead have been aggressively taking shrimp-tipped jigs. Trout, a mix of silver and specs have been hitting well.
While there are a lot of short specs, there are a fair number of 15- to 17-inch fish around to fill a limit. Reds and snook have been slow, but it you are patient working the docks, you can get some action. The water is ranging from nice to too clear, but there is no problem finding enough action to go through 50 shrimp in four hours.