The first week of April brought warm weather allowing water temperatures to rise and remain well above 70 degrees all week. This is good news for anglers as many found fish were on the move and hungry.
Tarpon reports are on the rise as fish were jumped inshore in Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor, and in the gulf near Sanibel's Knapp's Point. Most were hooked on cut bait including mullet and ladyfish, and a few went for artificials and live pinfish. Over the week schools of the large Atlantic herrings (threadfin), that are a favorite tarpon bait, are showing up inshore and off the beaches, a good sign that tarpon season is near.
Shark numbers were also on the rise with many hooked on tarpon baits. Blacktip, spinners and bulls were reported west of Demere Key in mid-Pine Island Sound, just outside Redfish and Captiva passes around schooling mackerel, and in Charlotte Harbor near Cape Haze Point. Bonnet head sharks that are often confused for a small hammerhead were caught in Matlacha Pass and the north end of the Sound around Bokeelia. Most bonnet heads are running 3 to 4 feet in length and were hooked on shrimp under bobbers while targeting trout.
On his first fishing trip, 11-year-old Jacob Merriam of Plymouth, Minnesota, was all smiles after winning the fight with this 31-inch snook. He was fishing in Charlotte Harbor with Capt. Bill Russell and Jacob was adamant about safely releasing the snook to grow bigger for next year. Great job Jacob!
With water temperatures stabilized in the mid-70s, snook fishing was consistent. There were a few days with light wind and little tide movement that made it tough, but if the tide was flowing the bite was generally pretty good. Live baits, including pilchards, pinfish, and shrimp, worked for snook to 34 inches around shoreline drop-offs, oyster bars and docks around the barrier islands. Anglers also found nighttime success with snook while fishing the Sanibel and Cape Coral piers and the Matlacha Bridge with live shrimp and Z-Mann minnows producing well.
As expected as we move into spring, sea trout are getting larger and most are egg laden, as it's their prime spawning season. Trout to 25 inches were caught in Pine Island Sound while casting top water lures or fishing live bait. The smaller trout up to 18 inches were spread across grass bottom in 3 to 5-foot depths while the larger fish were often caught while targeting snook. Remember, you may only keep one trout per person over 20 inches and it's a good idea to release all the big girls with a belly full of eggs. This helps insure we protect our resources and will have good trout fishing for years to come.
Finally this week we witnessed some high tides after what seemed like months of extreme lows. Redfish took advantage of the water and were caught tucked under the mangrove overhangs over the higher tides. Best baits included live and dead shrimp, pinfish, and for artificials, gold spoons and Redfish Magic in a pearl color.
The inshore Spanish mackerel bite was great on some days and tough on others, mainly due to water movement. The best bite was over the incoming tide in 6 to 8-foot depths while trolling or drifting. Small shiny spoons and live shrimp worked best.
Nearshore reefs and hard bottom yielded a mix of lane and mangrove snapper, grunts and grouper, while the sheepshead numbers appear to be thinning out. Most of the red grouper are running undersize while some good size gags were caught and released as they are out of season. Further offshore, from 70 to 110 feet, red grouper to 15 pounds were boated with the larger fish in deeper water. Amberjack and at least one African pompano were also reported from these depths and king mackerel were caught or sighted in depths from 40 to 60 feet.
When the water temperature stabilizes above 70 degrees for a week or so, our waters quickly come to life. A lot of good things are happening out there right now, it's my favorite time of year to be on the water.
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. Have a safe week and good fishin'.