On the water: February is the start of the season, and changes in fishing | News, sports, jobs

On the water: February is the start of the season, and changes in fishing |  News, sports, jobs

Another week of cold weather means more sheep. Randy Rainbow, visiting from Ohio, hooked this large shrimper around structure in upper Pine Island Sound with Capt. Bill Russell. Image provided

The waters surrounding Southwest Florida offer an array of fishing opportunities as we approach the end of winter and head into spring. While some fish are completing their spawning duties, others are just getting started. February brings cool days followed by a warm trend. By the latter part of the month, the cold days become fewer in number, and the average water temperature rises steadily.

The sheepshead’s winter range reaches its peak as the larger fish complete their spawning duties. Sheepshead school around structure with good tidal flow inshore, around beaches and near shore. It is the only fish that thrives in the cold and the best bite often comes on cold days. Sheepshead are one of the tastiest fish in Florida and receive a great deal of attention from anglers who fish from boats and land.

As the month progresses, warmer waters and the return of schooling baitfish will mark the beginning of some of the biggest cruises of the year. Large trout are known locally as “crocodiles” or “Alligator trout” It exceeds more than 20 inches, often pushing 30 inches. They are moving to nearshore grass flats, as well as oyster bars and deeper holes. These large fish are often laden with eggs as we approach the spawning season. Enjoy the battle, take a quick photo as you handle them carefully and put the big girls back in the water. They can then continue their spawning duties to ensure fish for the future. State law allows anglers to keep one seat per boat longer than 19 inches.

The snook bite will take off as the baitfish return and the water warms. In my opinion, snook are the best inshore sport fish. I am often asked, “If you could target just one fish, what would it be?” Snook is always my answer. They strike hard, fight hard and have a natural instinct to head for the nearest structure and break away. Whether big or small, they are great to catch, full of tenacity and just a great looking fish. It’s easy to get addicted and get snook fever. Snook season has closed, please take measures to ensure a safe release.

While redfish tolerate the cold, their numbers and appetite increase as winter approaches its end. They will range in size from babies no more than a foot long to over 30 inches long. While snook are characterized by fast running, dramatic leaps out of the water and heading for the nearest structure, redfish belong to a different category. They fight like a bull, not fast but with extreme force and they don’t know the word “quit.” They will fight hard from beginning to end.

Redfish are found in the previously mentioned areas of sheepshead, perch and snook as well as under mangrove stands. Many anglers choose to sight redfish, because they trail and trigger wakes as they hunt prey over the shallow flats. Low and negative tides provide great opportunities, especially in the early morning and late afternoon.

In the Gulf of Mexico, fish are moving as they follow warming waters northward. King mackerel and Spanish mackerel along with bonito or false albacore are located off the coast and often in large schools, foraging for feeding birds to locate hungry fish. If you’re lucky, you might catch a blackfin tuna as well. Cobia, a favorite local fish often mistaken for a shark, may appear at any time around your boat while fishing offshore or inshore. Bottom fishing around reefs can produce a variety of species including sheepshead, assorted snapper, grouper and flounder, to name a few. Also watch for triple tails basking on their side around floating objects. If you’re looking for larger red grouper, your best bet is to head to depths of 70 feet or more.

The transition from late winter to early spring can provide some of the best fishing the area has to offer. As the days lengthen and water temperatures rise, hungry fish of all sizes are invading coastal waters. We’ve touched on some of the most popular fish with anglers, but there are many more that we haven’t mentioned. So far this winter the weather has been cold, wet and windy. Let’s hope this month starts a trend of better weather.

Stay up to date on fishing regulations by visiting www.myfwc.com. Also download the Fish Rules app on your phone. It has current regulations and seasons with pictures to help identify the fish.

A lifelong resident of Matlasha and Pine Island, Captain Bill Russell has spent his life fishing and learning the waters surrounding Pine Island and Southwest Florida, and as a professional fishing guide for the past 23 years.

(tags for translation)Local Columns

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