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Angling opportunities are nearly endless when fall arrives

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Sep 24, 2021

Capt. George Tunison

Without question, fall is my favorite time to be fishing in Southwest Florida as the angling opportunities are nearly endless. Snook holdovers are still in beach mode, while many have already started their inland journey, eventually finding a warm place to winter which typically means warmer local canals, and areas far upriver.

Migratory tarpon still linger along the coast, some in passes, some still chasing bait in Charlotte Harbor but most will soon say goodbye to their Cape and Fort Myers tannin stained, gold-colored cousins that prefer to stay home instead of making the long trip south to Miami, the Keys and points below.

After a long hot summer, the cooling weather slowly turns on the seatrout bite and fly anglers, soft plastic and simple shrimp under popping cork types will all have a ball catching this ever popular, family friendly fish.

Although we have year-round redfishing opportunities here in Southwest Florida, fall is the magic time for these ever-hungry drum as they school up to scour the flats for small fish and invertebrates, heavily competing with each other for food and also easy targets for a well-placed lure or fly. If you can’t see them tailing or making the water “nervous” as they school on the shallow flats, you can be sure to find them under the shoreline brush and docks as the tide moves in, and will be there waiting for you to toss them some 1to 2-inch thick lady fish steaks, pinfish or shrimp, the irresistible smells drawing them out from under the branches to investigate.

With predictable morning weather patterns, magic GPS numbers call the offshore fleet out to the depths to drop baits for a variety of reef species from grouper to various snappers, even permit, cobia and both Spanish and king mackerel. Afternoon lightning storms will continue so early morning trips with an early return to port are still in order.

Tripletail will move in on crab trap buoys and this odd looking and delicious fish will fall for a well-placed live shrimp or small baitfish as well as a soft plastic shrimp, shrimp fly pattern or streamer, pulled close by or better, drifted back to them with the current.

Fall in Southwest Florida also brings in bonito, one of my all-time favorite light tackle fishes. Find schools chasing bait on the surface with your onboard binoculars or search the skies for feeding birds that will give away the school locations. Get close to the schools without running them over and scattering them. In the past a quickly retrieved white bucktail or soft plastic gets the job done. These fish are in constant overdrive so a speedy retrieve is usually called for.

Can’t get your fly offering up to enough speed to attract one of these little powerhouse sprinters to your hook? Add a speed retrieve to your fly fishing technique toolbox by clenching your fly rod in your armpit (after the cast) and then use both hands to make your fly, fly back to you at warp speed. Hang on after a tremendous hit while you do the deck dance, to clear fly line away from tangling around feet and ankles, and breaking off the fish. Many people use a belt mounted stripping basket or deck mounted containers to alleviate this problem. Whatever you use, it needn’t be fancy or expensive. I use a medium sized plastic trash can with a flat, 5-pound bar-bell weight in the bottom, to keep it in place on a windy deck.

Spanish macs will be found many miles offshore and at other times in close along the beaches, in and around the passes, and in Charlotte Harbor. This is a great family fun fish as they are easy to catch, love chum and provide great action on light tackle, using lures or live baits.

Remember to attach your engine kill switch lanyard to your person.

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