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NAPLES — As I write this, we are seeing the temperature drop as we experience a cold front again. Hopefully, this one won't do too much to the water temperature, and we can continue enjoying a great winter season.
One other thing that put a damper on inshore fishing was a fair shot of red tide at the end of last week and through the weekend. Estero Bay and Wiggins Pass were the sight of numerous dead mullet, and if you had a live well full of bait in the wrong spot, it became a dead well.
Looking ahead, all of you grouper fishermen (and women) better mark your calendars because as of Feb. 1 we will once again "enjoy" a two-month grouper closure. While the motion to eliminate that closed season has in effect passed, the rules have not been completed, so we once again have the two-month closure. No one has ever accused the government of being quick to correct a mistake.
Speaking of grouper, the red grouper are in good supply, and some of the fish are running well over 30 inches and well over 10 pounds.
Yes, the better fish are farther offshore, but some keepers are being caught within 10 to 12 miles of the beach. Everything from live pilchards and pinfish, to dead cut bait and squid are doing the trick. Some good-sized king mackerel and amberjacks have been reported, too.
Inshore, the red tide put a damper on things at the end of the week through the weekend. There is plenty of live bait available, as well as live shrimp from the tackle shops. On most days, there are plenty of inshore species willing to eat them. One of the highlights of the weekend was the good Spanish mackerel fishing just off the beach outside of Wiggins Pass. Fish up to five pounds were caught on shrimp and lures.
Offshore: An extended offshore report begins with Capt. Clarence Fleck on the "Capt. Marvel" and a report of impressive-sized red groupers. On a recent full day, they limited out, and several of the keepers were over 10 pounds and one hit 15 pounds. Even on a half day, only 12 miles out produced five keepers to eight pounds with another keeper lost at the boat.
The "Findictive," captained by Michael Avion, ran an extended trip with the Naples Fishing Club recently, and the red grouper and amberjack fishing was really good. They ran out to 110 feet of water, and fished with squid and live pinfish, and put a hurting on the grouper. Sixteen of the keepers were over 30 inches and the "pool" winner was a nice, 34-inch fish that went 20 pounds and was caught by Tom Kannith. Capt. Mike says a friend reported catching several king mackerel in the 35-pound range.
Reader Hunter Grout was 22 miles offshore on a recent trip with daughter Meredith and friend Fred Buechel, and they devised a formula for a keeper red grouper.
If you catch 60 shorts then you will get a keeper. That seemed to work for them, because they landed 120 fish and ended up with two keepers. They also caught grunts, yellowtail snapper, porgies and one small shark.
Hunter notes that his GPS failed, and he had to navigate back by compass. Make sure you have navigation backup if you leave sight of land. It can get very lonely out there, and Texas is a long way off.
Pete Rosko relays a report by Capt. Hunter Robinson, who has been having good luck on giant redfish while drift jigging about five miles off Naples. He is using a 1/2-ounce kandlefish jig in gold. He sent a picture, and the fish is well over 10 pounds.
Ten Thousand Islands: Capt. Stacy Mullendore says the fishing in the Islands has been good, and there are a wide variety of fish willing to eat a bait. He has been using both live bait and live shrimp on his trips with good success.
On the flats around the shoals, he has been finding everything from bluefish to mackerel and trout and jacks. A few pompano are hitting tipped jigs in the deeper cuts. The trout have been mostly in the 15- to 18-inch range, but a nice four-pound, 23-inch fish was landed on Tuesday.
On the higher tides, Stacy is having his anglers work both shrimp and live pilchards around the mangroves for redfish. The reds are mostly in the 19- to 24-inch range, and are eating well. Water conditions are good and no red tide is reported.
Naples/Estero Bay: I fished on Thursday and Saturday in the Estero and Wiggins Pass area, and the red tide was significant. On Thursday, it was bad enough that a couple of the guides lost all their live bait.
Fishing was on the slow side, but we did get 10 to 12 snook each day, and on Thursday we got several nice-sized jack crevalle and a keeper redfish. Live bait was available both on the beach and offshore, but keeping it alive was a challenge. On Saturday, I tried Wiggins, and it was actually worse there.
Capt. Jason Moore fished on Monday and Tuesday, and said that by Tuesday the red tide seemed to be somewhat less of a problem.
On Monday, his first fish was a nice, 30-inch snook, but then the tide was slow and so were the fish. Tuesday, the big fish of the trip was a huge, 15-pound jack crevalle. Jason says that the bay is relatively clear, and water temperature in the morning was 69 degrees. He got live bait offshore and didn't lose any to red tide on Tuesday.
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