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) firstname.lastname@example.org(w) youtube.com/tailchaserfishing(streaming radio) wengradio.com