Southwest Florida offers an array of fishing opportunities from the novice to the seasoned angler. Sanibel Island and Fort Myers exhibits great fishing year round because of the fall and spring migrations of a few, warm water game fish; not to mention our year round residents.
I get asked fairly often, "can I fish for tarpon in December"? No, because Tarpon are a tropical fish species that prefer a warm and stable environment. They migrate south in the winter looking for warmer water. "Can we book a fishing charter in January for Shark"? We DO NOT target shark during the winter months. Shark are year round residents but are more abundant in the summer months when the water is warmer .So, I've decided to put together this article of sorts so as to have a better understanding of when, why and how we catch certain species of game fish.
During the winter months of December through February, our focus is on Mangrove Snapper, Sheepshead, Redfish and Trout. Trout, being the main attraction during this time of year because they prefer cooler water temperatures; which leads to them more actively feeding. This is a great time for family fishing. The game fish are all usually slot sized and a lot of fun for the kids.
-Mangrove Snapper and Sheepshead are caught using a 1/4 or 1/2 oz. split shot with a #1 or #2 long shank hook. Look to catch them near structure and deep holes around mangroves.
-When fishing for Redfish, I use a popping cork with white bait or shrimp. Incoming, or outgoing tide on the flats - Or I free line the bait near the mangroves.
-I catch Trout using white bait or shrimp with a popping cork on the flats or reeling in a small weight across the bottom of deeper cuts with a shrimp attached.
During March and April, the water temperatures start to warm up which is always an exciting time for fishing in Fort Myers. These months are good to fish for Trout, Redfish and Mangrove snapper. Shark and Snook are starting to feed more actively, Tarpon are migrating into the area and the Cobia migration to the north begins. In the winter months it’s common for certain fish such as Snook to move away from surface feeding and shallow flats, towards fresher water like the river and connecting canals, which stays warmer. March tends to be when these fish move out and start feeding on the bait that is laid up on the beaches and flats to regain lost body fat and prepare to spawn. Cobia, are more common in the panhandle but we do get the migration run near shore, from north to south. Tripletail, also become a target if fishing off the beaches. These beauties are not rare but also not abundant anywhere. So keep your eyes open for these fish. They’re great table fare.
Cobia can be caught using a few different techniques:
-Bottom fishing with weights and live bait such as pinfish, blue runners and crabs. Cobia, are attracted to sound and movement, so using artificial baits is also a great choice. I prefer bright, noisy plugs which sink and/or dive. You can also troll for Cobia from your boat using a heavy rod and reel with about a 4oz. weight and live bait.
-Cobia, are known for putting up a fight, which makes the hunt all the more exciting. They take a little more skill and patience to land, but the prize is the fight.
-Tripletail, tend to hang around channel markers, buoys, crab traps and bridges, the common factor being structure. They are a slow moving fish, preferring to drift with the currents especially if their floating under debris or vegetation.
-For bait, nothing beats a juicy live shrimp. Tripletail just can’t seem to resist them. A close second to the natural critter would be a D.O.A. root beer color shrimp fished under a cork. Tripletail will also take a variety of chunked baits such as fresh cut pieces of pilchards or mullet and a small whole squid will also be too hard to turn down.
-My line of choice for both Cobia and Tripletail is 15-20 lb. mono and 18” – 24” long 30 lb. leader, using a 7ft medium action rod.
During May through July, fishing is what I consider the best time of year to catch that trophy. We target Trout and Redfish with the spotlight being on Snook, Tarpon and Shark.
May begins the Spawning season for Snook. They can be extremely temperamental during this time but the fishing can be phenomenal! The tarpon migrate north beginning in late spring just off the coast of Sanibel and Fort Myers beaches. Boca Grande Pass and surrounding areas offer Tarpon the leisure to nourish in preparation for spawning because of the large number of crabs, shrimp, and baitfish that drift in and out of the pass on the tides. Shark fishing is great all through summer. You can catch shark during the day or even better in the later afternoon through evening hours.
-I fish for Snook near the beaches, in the passes and under docks. With the larger Snook I would use a live ladyfish with a heavier action rod, 30 pound power pro, 30-40 lb. leader and 6/0 circle hooks. I like fishing for Snook with small live ladyfish and large white bait. You can also fish the mangroves and flats using 20 lb. line, 30 lb. leader and 2-3/0 hooks.
-Tarpon can be caught about 3 miles off the beaches when free lining threadfins using 6 to 8 size hooks, 40 pound braid and 60 to 80 pound leader (depending on the clarity of the water and location). In the passes you can drift both threadfins and/or crabs. In Boca Grande Pass, free line crabs if you see them rolling. In the afternoon, they head to the bottom to shade themselves from the sun. Try using a weight that will keep the crab down.
- The best shark bait is a stingray if you have the patience to snag a few. Just debarb them when you snag them before you drop them into the live well. Rig it and cut into the side of one of the fins and then cast it out. You'll catch the large boys with this technique. If you prefer the easier method of using cut bait, we tend to use ladyfish, mullet or jacks with the hooks rigged through the gills. We drift a chum bag off the back of the boat.
-I use Canyon Reels and St Croix Rods. Spool these reels with 60 to 80 lb. test braid or 40 to 80 lb. mono with 10 o/-18 o/ size hooks. Always use cable, not single strand wire. Sharks will kink and pop single strand in a matter of seconds. If you can find coated cable it's even better because it dampens the electrical signal your wire will give off that the shark could pick up.
August and September, are the hottest months of the year here in Fort Myers. We fish for Snook, Trout, Redfish and Shark while keeping an eye on the water temperatures and afternoon thunderstorms.
By this time of summer, the heat has really warmed up the water which can make the fish and your live bait a little lethargic. Try fishing in deeper water where the temp is cooler. Finding shade and deep water together, you’re generally going to be looking at a honey hole. Morning and evening hours, after the rain are the best time to fish during these months.
During October and November, we target Trout, Sheapshead and Mangrove Snapper with the spotlight being on Redfish. The reason for this is because the fall is when Redfish begin to spawn in the mouth of inlets, such as the Caloosahatchee River. This is the best time of year to catch big reds. Also look for the fall migration of Cobia to the south starting late September and October.
Look for Redfish on the flats of cuts or inlets. If you see a large school of mullet, you'll be on the Redfish. Use white bait or pin fish with a popping cork on 20 lb. line, 20 lb. leader and 2-3/0 hooks.