Pesky March cold fronts continue to keep anglers on their toes both shallow and deep. Not uncommon for the month, these weather curves make every day on the fishing grounds a mix of strategy, catches and expectations.
With the ever-changing conditions, anglers, skippers/guides and their crews really need to be flexible when it comes to safety, the species they target and the areas they choose to survey. A calm, smooth sea one day will often resemble the characteristics of Victory at Sea the next, while clear coastal waters can become quite murky overnight.
Remember that March fishing success can be infuriating and certainly a day-to-day challenge.
Recent fronts have had a significant impact on the region’s historic king mackerel run. As a result of water temperature and forage, changing conditions cause shoals to move rapidly through the local water. Anglers trying to stay on the king’s bite find that these shoals and their fodder are in one area one day and gone the next.
Last week:Southwest Florida fishing report: Late season cold front affects anglers
Two weeks ago:Southwest Florida fishing report: Ripple winds challenge anglers
Three weeks back:Southwest Florida Fishing Report: Anglers Happy to Fish Spring Come Early
An excellent and popular method of surveying scattered schools of mackerel is by using a plane/spoon combination. Depending on the depth, the #2 through #4 planers combined with a 3″ to 6″ trolling spoon allow anglers to cover large areas in search of a hook. While trolling, it helps to keep a close eye on the sonar for promising baitfish returns, as the kings will be below or on the periphery of these schools. Variable trolling speeds will also allow spoons to be presented at different depths throughout the water column.
Despite some thick seas, bottom fishing remains consistent, with full-day ventures outnumbering half-day excursions. Pushing to depths in excess of 95 feet, anglers catch red grouper and a wide variety of snapper species. To add to the excitement, cobia, permit and shark connections were recorded.
Closer to shore and in shallow waters, mixed catches reign supreme for anglers casting a myriad of artificial and natural baits. With water temperatures ranging from 72 to 78 degrees, seasonal species including speckled/silver trout, sheepshead, pompano and whiting remain reliable targets on weather days, while fish from Popular game fish such as snook, redfish and tarpon head to the boat during the season. combination of ideal conditions and optimum tides.
Offshore: “The calm windy days allowed us to do some decent racing well offshore aboard the All In,” said captain Jim Rinckey. “Beyond 35 nautical miles, the reef fishing was great, but the winds meant that these races don’t happen every day.”
Aboard his Port O Call-based charter boat, the All In, full-day charters found Rinckey busy occupying his groups reeling from red groupers on almost every outing. Intermingled with red grouper were significant numbers of mangrove/yellowtail/lane snapper and red sea bream. Rinckey’s baits of choice for the week include herring, squid and the 2oz gold metal jigs worked close to the limestone bedrock of the Gulf.
Rinckey also came across a scattering of king mackerel at the start of the fishing day and cobia throughout his travels on and around some wrecks and artificial reefs.
In preparation for this offshore species duo, Rinckey’s tackle arsenal still includes a large bucktail jig and pitch bait rigged and ready to go.
Naples/Estero Bay: Aboard my Port O Call Marina-based guide boat, the Grand Slam, my fishing crews fished for a variety of species in the shallow waters of Naples, Rookery Bay and Marco Island.
When conditions allowed, we fished along the beaches in 8-16 feet of water and worked in the shallow middle bays and pass areas.
Along the beaches I focused on reliable schools of whiting, silver trout and a scattering of Spanish mackerel. Grouped on some hard bottom areas, my anglers stayed close to the trio, casting prawn tip tube jigs and small pieces of prawn presented on a light chicken rig.
In the passes and bays in between, casting a mix of live sardines, live shrimp and tube jigs resulted in the capture of late season snook, pompano, speckled trout, redfish and mutton. Staying well ahead of the murky water and picking spots sheltered from the winds was helpful for casting accuracy and keeping the lines taut.
Ten Thousand Islands: “The wind and dirty water made it difficult, but we’re catching fish in the upper ten thousand islands,” said captain Chris Turner. “Catching live bait most of the time has been reliable, while shrimp and jigs always get the job done.”
Early starts allowed Turner and his casters to successfully work swept points, oyster bars and areas of downed deadwood. Featuring scaled sardines and live prawns under a kahle hook and popping cork suit, snook, large crevalle jack and rockfish all made their way into the dip net.
When conditions permitted and during the rising tide phase, Turner also drifted out of grassy plains and island cuts. Casting a variety of jigs, speckled trout, whiting and pompano were tricked by a low, slow retrieve technique.
If you have a report to share, email [email protected]
Anglers, email your photos to [email protected] and we’ll compile your images into an online gallery featured every Thursday morning at www.naplesnews.com. Do not submit photos of illegally caught fish.