Keep an eye out for big snook sunning near the shore
While casting around shallow mangrove shorelines on these delightfully warm winter afternoons, don’t be surprised to see the biggest snook of your life sitting motionless on the bottom sunning itself just a few feet ahead of the boat. If you’ve never seen a really big snook close up, at first glance you might mistake it for a log till suddenly it’s gone, leaving a big cloud of bottom sediment behind and you with mouth hanging open.
These bigger sub-tropical fish need all the heat they can get this time of year and will move right up on the shorelines to get a warm up and a tan after a chilly night. From my observations, the cold seems to affect the larger adult fish more than the juvenile ones. Not being a fisheries biologist, I can’t explain why but I do know what I saw in the great snook freeze of 2010, where creeks I fish were covered in a floating mat of dead snook from bank to bank and as far as the eye could see. Ninety percent of these dead and dying fish where all adult fish. I saw very few dead under the 28-inch mark but boatloads over 36 inches and larger.
This incredibly sad sight also made clear just how many trophy class snook where swimming in local waters at that time and just how smart these old females had to have been to grow to trophy size in such large numbers, especially considering the heavy angling pressure our area receives.
This past Tuesday we decided to leave the week’s great seatrout bite and focus on river snook and reds in shallow creeks. As we moved along the shoreline in stealth mode, we were suddenly treated to the sight of a 40-inch class snook sunning itself on the bank in a foot of water with a nearly 5-foot shark patrolling the drop-off just a few yards away from it.
As you probe these shorelines, look for shallow areas that are wind protected and sun drenched, little bays and cuts that warm quickly and hold cold fish. If you suddenly start seeing “muds” or clouds of bottom sediment in front of the boat, immediately stop and be quiet. You have just disturbed fish that were lying on the bottom. Stay quiet and start fan casting the area before slowly moving forward.
We caught several small snook and reds that way making long casts along the shorelines and out on the open flats of these solar heated shallow bays. The number one lure was the small paddle tail soft plastic grub on 1/4 oz. jig heads slowly hopped along the bottom. The larger snook and all the redfish where caught on the smallest size Rapala Coastal Series suspending twitch baits in chrome and gold flavors, fished very slowly with subtle twitches and pauses during the retrieve making it look like an easy snack.
Sheepshead are being caught in large numbers but more offshore on reefs than inshore. The inshore bite around docks and bridges will continue to improve over the next few weeks. Minimum size limit for sheepies is 12 inches and you can keep up to 8 fish per angler with a vessel limit of 50 fish during March and April.
Offshore, catching big snapper and grouper is a great way to spend a warm winter afternoon.
On Wednesday, the trout bite around Matlacha was top notch. At one point it was a trout on every cast with an occasional rat red mixed in catching fish from the first cast and eventually leaving them, still biting.
Lite lines test your angling skills. Back in 2000, angler Enrico Capozzi set three black marlin world records on lite lines catching a 159-pound, 13-ounce fish on 2-pound test, a 152-pound, 1-ounce fish on 4-pound test and a 735-pound, 3-ounce marlin on 6-pound line.
Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org.