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It’s a great time to fish Southwest Florida waters

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Jul 2, 2021

Capt. George Tunison

What a great time to be an angler in Southwest Florida! The gang’s all here from off-shore snapper, grouper, kings, cobia and permit, to snook-filled beaches. Charlotte Harbor is filled with bait, tarpon and sharks, and some really good trout fishing in clean water bays, just off islands in 2-4 feet, along the east wall of the harbor. Redfish are always hungry and currently planning for their annual fall get-together starting this September.

Get out early, remember to stay well hydrated and get back to port before the afternoon blow-up. Lighting is serious business, especially here in Southwest Florida.

Do you always wear a life jacket? Most don’t, especially in summer. Wear your ECOS lanyard around your wrist when under way? What’s an ECOS? If you suddenly hit something in the water and are thrown from the boat five miles from shore, now in the water watching your boat headed for points unknown, could you make it back to shore? How many readers over 50 can swim a mile? Worst case; you’ve been thrown out and now your boat is running in tight circles with you in the eventual path of that spinning prop!

As of April 1, 2021, the Coast Guard says you must be physically attached to an engine kill or cutoff switch (ECOS) with a lanyard (or electronic fob) if your boat is 26 feet long or less and while on plane. If your boat was built before 2020 with no ECOS, you are exempt although installing one makes safe sense.

If you’re targeting tarpon in Charlotte Harbor, always carry an extra rod pre-rigged with a colorful bucktail or plastic eel to have a shot at catching a curious cobia. This past week, while tarpon fishing in north Matlacha Pass, two suddenly appeared 40 yards from the boat. We cast our DOA Baitbuster tarpon lures at them and got a half-hearted follow from one fish that quit before biting. A second cast with an already rigged, black Berkeley Power Bait Eel on a 3/4 oz. jig-head proved to be too much to pass up and was quickly eaten.

Cobia can pop up anywhere this time of year — offshore, the passes, Charlotte Harbor, to the flats of Pine Island and Matlacha. The Caloosahatchee and its bridges can also hold fish when conditions are right.

The point is, be ready this time of year with a rigged rod with a cobia’s favorite snack — an eel — tied to the end of the line. Live eels are much better choice, of course, and larger pinfish and whitebaits also work well.

If you fish the Atlantic for cobia, you first hunt for the giant manta rays that come in shallow along the beaches at certain times of the year. These huge creatures usually have a pack of cobia along for the ride. You’re in the right fishing area if most of the boats have tall towers for spotting rays and cobia from long distances.

If you want to experience this unique fishing, try Coco Beach where 50 pound and larger cobia ride on the wings of giant mantas sometimes only 50 yards from the beach.

If you want to bring Mr. Cobia home for dinner, you’re allowed to keep one per day. Make sure it has a minimum fork length of 33 inches and there is no more than two harvested fish in your boat no matter the number in your party.

Cobias are strong fighters, dangerous when gaffed and always tasty on the grill. A fish Billy (club) is a good tool to have when bringing a large cobia in the boat. When gaffed they usually go ballistic with a sudden surge of power.

Not long ago I saw a Coco Beach fishing guide deeply thigh punctured by a thrashing, gaffed cobia. Be careful and get it in the box as quickly as possible, then sit on the lid and hold on.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. You can contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.