Outstanding angling opportunities await you in the pristine waters of Southwest Florida. Cooler water temperatures afford boaters in the “bay boat” class and above to target quality offshore pelagics that have moved much closer to the beaches to spend the winter months in warmer nearshore waters. Many of my charters this time of year are within sight of land in the calm Gulf waters, which allows for maximum fishing time and far less boat riding. Dinner fish are abundant, with amazingly tasty table fare like flounder, mangrove snapper, gag and red grouper, tripletail and many others in the nearshore range of 30 to 60 feet of water. Most offshore anglers keep it simple and troll for grouper this time of year. When trolling, my go-to bait when working any of our published reef structure is Bomber Saltwater Grade’s CD 30 in various colors from red/white to their new toxic mullet pattern. For those who prefer bottom digging, it’s tough to beat a conventional knocker rig armed with cut sardines/mullet/ladyfish, squid or live pinfish.
Nearshore angling is also exceptional during the winter months. Most days are mild and very pleasant while chasing Florida game fish. Expect lower than usual bay/backcountry tides with this edition of GAFF, due to the winter north/northeast wind patterns, so a good GPS/chart combination is a great idea if you are new to the area or visiting.
Targeting grass flats with scattered sand holes is the primary method of success for locating a myriad of species like trout, redfish, flounder, and others. I like to work the perimeter of each sand hole with Bomber’s Paradise Popper popping cork, with a live shrimp or scented soft plastic. Also, on those windy days, don’t forget about the “old faithful” sheepshead. They taste great and are likely to feed on any old dock or structure using a simple jig head with shrimp combination. The water will be much clearer and cooler than usual and slowing down your presentation of artificials will do the trick to entice a strike. Trout and cruising redfish are the primary wintertime inshore species, and it’s not uncommon to catch 100-plus fish onboard the Tail Chaser Charter Boat. Fishing is great – come on down.
Tail Chaser Tip: New technologies in the rod/reel industry should make you consider upgrading your equipment this year. My clients are thrilled that I recently outfitted my boat with PENN’s Battle series reels (4000-6000 models), mounted on their new graphite Legion rods. They are raving about the increased castability, flawless drag system and crushing backbone strength of the new rods. 2012 is going to be a great year. FISH ON.
Capt. Chris O’Neill owns and operates Tail Chaser Charter Services in Englewood, Florida (The Tarpon Capital of the World). Capt. Chris specializes in shallow-water adventures that put his clients within “tail chasing” distance of tarpon, goliath grouper, sharks, redfish, snook, etc. From April through August, it is not uncommon to hook a Boca Grande Pass tarpon in the morning, a 400+ pound goliath grouper before lunch, then end your day with a 500-pound bull shark. August through March offers world-class, shallow-water, backcountry fishing for snook, tarpon, tailing redfish, and plenty more. Capt. Chris is the founder and co-host of SW Florida’s No. 1-rated “live from the water and in-studio” syndicated radio show (Reel Saltwater Outdoors), broadcasting six days a week. The show has become a big hit for SW Florida anglers that want to get a real-time snapshot of what’s biting and how to catch them. His sponsors include: Bomber Saltwater Grade Lures, Pure Fishing, PENN, Ingman Marine, Gasparilla Marina, Minn Kota, Humminbird, Buchans Landing Resort, Freedom Hawk Kayaks, Sampan Screenprint and WENG/WSRQ Talk Radio.Contact info:Capt. Chris O’Neill(p) 941 270-7867(w) tailchasercharters.com(e) email@example.com(w) youtube.com/tailchaserfishing(streaming radio) wengradio.com
It’s a winter fishery here in Southwest Florida, and January and February bring our two coolest months of the year. We normally receive several cold fronts accompanied with high wind. We are now spending a lot of time in the backcountry where we can duck away from the elements.
Do yourself a big favor and keep an eye on your tide chart because we have some extremely low tides around both the full and new moons during both months. If you get caught in a -.5 low tide that you did not anticipate, it could ruin your day! Be extra careful with the morning low tides Jan. 7-12 and 19-25, as well as Feb. 4-10 and 17-22. Wind direction affects the tides dramatically. A north or east wind will make the tide lower and longer than expected as it blows the water out and delays its return.
The days when the fronts are absent, the sun is shining, and the thermometer gets up into the mid-70s can be awesome fishing! Daytime air temperatures average in the mid- to upper-70s in January and February, while water temps average about 66 degrees.
The shallow grass flats are alive with trout, bluefish, ladyfish, jacks, Spanish mackerel, and pompano. You can use many different types of artificials on the flats for all of these guys. Among my favorites are DOA jerk baits and shrimp, both in root beer color. You can also use 3/8-ounce bucktail type jigs tipped with a very small piece of shrimp.
The oyster bars hold sheepshead and redfish. If presenting natural bait, they both like to eat crustaceans like shrimp or fiddler crabs. Fish for the reds on the oyster bars on the beginning of the incoming tide, and fish for the sheepshead on the second half of the incoming tide.
The backwater bays and rivers hold trout, snook, mangrove snapper, ladyfish, and other fun-to-catch species. When fishing for snook, it’s hard to beat live baits like pilchards and thread herring. Snapper will gladly accept pieces of shrimp, and the ladyfish will eat just about anything you throw into the water.
I have developed a species availability chart relative to the backwater and near-shore areas that I fish in the Everglades National Park. You can see it at www.CaptainRapps.com
Hailing out of Chokoloskee Island Park Marina, Chokoloskee, FL
Capt. Rapps has been fishing the Chokoloskee area for just over 20 years. He offers expert guided, light tackle, near-shore, and backwater fishing trips in the Everglades National Park, and is happy to accommodate anyone from men, women, and children of all ages, experienced or not, and those with special needs. Pete and his professional guides are extremely patient and love to teach. You can book a charter online 24/7. See
Well, the holidays have come and gone and we start yet another year that will bring us great fulfillment with spectacular fishing opportunities. Starting off the year in the west central part of the state you can expect cooler water temperatures along with more frequent and harsh cold fronts that will make some tough fishing—but if you do a little planning and fishing around a changing barometer, you can have some very productive days.
Trout has to be the most targeted fish during the cooler months of January and February. This is a great time to dust off the artificial tackle bag and start tying up your favorite trout rig. Trout fishing is fun and fairly easy. You just need to find a flat that has healthy grass and good tidal flow. Drifting a flat is a very productive method when fishing trout. (A drift sock will help slow your drift on windy days.) I really like to use soft plastics when fishing for trout and my favorite rig is a Z-Man paddle Z pearl white bait matched with a 1/8-ounce jig head. You can also have good success with a 5-inch Z-Man Jerk-Z with a weedless rig.
Sheepshead are also a highly targeted species and also make for great table fair. Sheepshead can be a tricky fish to catch as they have very hard and small mouths. I’ve found that using No. 1 Daiichi circle hook matched with the adequate amount of weight and tipped with a small shrimp works great. Fishing sheepshead is pretty easy; just find structure. Sheepshead are on just about every dock, bridge, marker or artificial reef in Tampa Bay. You can also find them on the flats around creeks and troughs but they do seem a bit pickier. A sheepshead bite is very subtle, so using a light rod with a sensitive tip matched with some 4-pound Fins Windtamer braided line will help you feel the soft bite.
This time of year will also bring big black drum on the flats that school up in the hundreds. These big beasts will show up roaming the outer flats and bars feeding on shrimp among other crustaceans. Finding the big schools is the hard part, but a stealthy approach will keep the school in place and make for a great day of catching. Shrimp is great bait for black drum, but I prefer artificial baits. I like the root beer color Z-Man Paddle-Z matched with a heavy 3/8- to ½-ounce jig head. Black drum on the flats can be fun and they reach sizes up to 50 pounds.
Cobia and bonnethead sharks are also plentiful in the area around Tampa Bay’s warmer water power plants. This is a great area to go when you’re fishing on the coldest days of the year, as water around that area will stay in the 70s, which draws the fish. I like to use a pinfish or a shrimp suspended under a popping cork and hang a small chum bag over the side to create a scent to draw in the sharks. Both bonnethead sharks and cobia will make for a great fight on those really cold days. Tight lines!
Capt. Jason Prieto is owner and operator of Steady Action Fishing Charters, Inc. He is a full-time charter captain in Tampa Bay and its surrounding areas. He operates his charters out of a custom rigged Canyon Bay 2470 bay boat rigged with the finest accessories to put you on the fish. He is an outdoor writer for various magazines in the area and is co-host to Outdoor Fishing Adventures on ESPN radio 1040 AM Saturday mornings from 8 AM to 10 AM. Some of his sponsors are Canyon Bay Boats, Power Pro, Daiichi Hooks, Calusa Nets, Ace Trailers, American Premier Rods, and Daiwa.Contact Info:Capt. Jason PrietoSteady Action Fishing Charters(p) 813 727-9890(e) firstname.lastname@example.org(w) steadyactionfishingcharters.com
It is sad seeing 'ol 2011 leave...such a phenomenal year of great charters, amazing weather, and so much good luck last year I wouldn't know were to start! The big snook, tarpon, and everything in between chewing like crazy is going to be dearly missed. Unless we roll into 2012 and it rocks even harder!
Locally, we've had a plethora of baitfish and juvenile game fish and it is not too far-fetched to think we may be in for a banner year. Inshore fishing has seen its ups and downs in our area, as the circle of life underwater goes on. Our snook population, which was brought to its knees two winters ago, is now on its strongest rebound I have ever witnessed in my 30 years of being in Southwest Florida. Lots of juveniles in the nursery grounds are showing that our snook are spawning a year.
Wintertime catch and release style will be excellent during the cooler days in January when the sun comes out and warms that black mud bottom of the Caloosahatchee River just enough to wake them suckers up! You can catch these by downsizing your tackle and fishing much slower than normal. Fishing lighter leader like 20-pound Yozuri pink fluorocarbon will help present that light bait perfect in that 30-inchers eyes. I love fishing light bucktails tipped with shrimp, which allows me not only to target snook but nearly every other species of carnivorous fish in saltwater. It's such a good all-around bait for the cooler months so don't be afraid to hop that jig so slow that it may rest motionless on the bottom for a couple of seconds before hopping it again!
With seatrout coming back into season I'm sure a lot of y’all will be targeting them for the broiler, and there’s no better time than on our cool mornings. Big trout love cool, calm mornings to go out and feed on top. Fishing soft plastic jerkbaits in pearl white on the surface or a Rapala Skitter Walk is all you'll need. Just know that only one of your keeper trout in the box can be over 20 inches, because this time of year you'll be catching plenty of oversized ones!
Our inshore redfishing will continue to be sweet on our better tides with evening negative low tides being best for tailing fish. Texas rigged shrimp fished on 15- to 20-pound leaders will knock out these spooky shallow water fish in any conditions. Fishing from Chino Island to Pineland Marina with these northeast winds we will be experiencing for a couple of months will help you find shelter from the wind and plenty of fish.
If you find those super-slick calm days and want to shoot offshore, don't think about it, just do it. Fishing in our Gulf for all of our bottom fish is continuing to be red hot. Big grouper, cobia, and sizeable amberjack can be found on nearly all of our nearshore wrecks and ledges. Keep an eye on our ever-changing ridiculous grouper regs so you aren’t boarded by our friendly FWC officers and find yourself with a hefty fine. It's still pretty awesome to catch a 30-inch gag even if you have to let it go.
With plenty of big mangrove snapper and cobia around it's no problem to bring home dinner. Fishing live pinfish on 50-pound braid is my "go-to" for wreck fishing. This combination works great for working over a big cobia when fishing structure. Whenever fishing wrecks, try to fish in the areas adjacent to the structure rather than trying to drop down right on top of it. If you can get those big predators to pull of the wreck a few feet before hooking them, you have a much better shot at getting them to the boat. With our insane springtime fishing around the corner, it’s time to get out there and warm up the tackle and go fishing – because in South Florida fishing is always good! Tight lines and good times!
Capt. Chris was raised in Fort Myers and is the son of Scott Rush, owner of San Carlos Marine. He grew up in South Florida and the Florida Keys. Experienced in all of SW Florida’s waters as a backbay and offshore guide, Chris runs his business simply by word of mouth. Word spreads quickly when your customers are boating 20lb+ snook and landing 100lb+ tarpon on fly. Chris has the patience to provide advice and coaching for everyone from children to CEO’s. Chris spends more than 280 days guiding and fishes 20+ tournaments annually.Born and raised in SW Florida, Capt. Lacey is a 4th-generation native. She learned how to swim before she could walk and could shoot a spear gun before she could read. Lacey is an experienced diver and spearfisher with hundreds of hours spent underwater. She has spent her life operating boats up to 35’ in some of the toughest conditions. Her hard-working spirit, good ‘ol southern hospitality and values are what you’ll love about fishing with Capt. Lacey! Rush Charters can accomodate up to 6 anglers on their offshore boat, 1-4 on their Ranger bay boat, and as few as 1-3 anglers on their Ranger flats boat. With both captains, they can accomodate parties of up to 8 customers. Come experience the RUSH of a lifetime with Rush Charters! Contact Info: Capt. Chris & Capt. Lacey RushRush Charters(p) 239 482-0193 Office(p) 239 980-1436 Lacey(p) 239 229-5388 Chris(w) rushcharters.com