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It’s a great time to fish in Southwest Florida

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Apr 29, 2022

One day away from May and some of the best fishing of the year in Southwest Florida! From many miles offshore in 100-plus feet of water to near shore structures, early morning beach walking to backcountry shallows, we’ve got a fish for you!

Off- and near-shore grouper, big snapper, permit, sharks, cobia, even tripletail all await your baits when the winds allow a safe trip.

If you’re new to the offshore game, first know that state waters end out at the 9-mile mark. Once you cross that line you’re in federal waters.

“Anyone on a commercial, for-hire, or private vessel, is required to have a venting tool or descending device rigged and ready to use when fishing for reef fish in Gulf of Mexico federal waters.” Don’t forget your State Reef Certification as well to be in compliance when offshore reef angling.

If you’re not familiar with all the rules and regulations, the FWC website is really well done and the place to visit for all things fishing and hunting in the Sunshine State.

Stone crab traps have to be removed soon, so this may be your last shot at catching a tripletail, an unusual looking, hard fighting and delicious fish that loves to hide below any floating structure like crab floats, ambushing prey that comes by with the tide. Free-lined or put under a float, a lively shrimp, small whitebait, pinfish or small crab, drifted back to the fish with the current, is the ticket. Keep the boat back so the fish doesn’t sink into the depths   

Hit the beach surf zone by boat or stalk them on foot for multiple shots at vacationing beach snook. Sight fishing becomes easier as the sun gets higher in the sky. Fresh, wiggling, cast net-caught live baits are always snook candy.

If cast nets aren’t for you, then think Sabiki rig fishing. Two or three anglers can catch a respectable amount of bait in short order without the castnet work or mess. If the Sabiki rig is your go-to bait collection method, then invest in or make a dedicated Sabiki rod that also stores the rig making life easier.

For snook beach lures, a plain white bucktail jig or white- or silver-flake soft plastic ZMAN or DOA paddle tail grub on a 1/4 to 3/8 jig head, will get the job done. Big, noisy splashing, top-waters and large cut baits both fished at night could start a beach battle with a snook of a lifetime. 

May in South Florida means tarpon to most anglers and the hunt is on in high gear especially along the coast where small crabs, a variety of live finfish baits, fly rod offerings and soft plastic swimbaits might get you hooked up to a triple digit chrome rocket. Remember to bow, pushing that rod towards the fish, when it takes to the air.

For many, a spring trip to Boca Grande is the choice as this world famous tarpon hole stacks up with tarpon, guides and anglers each spring. Captiva Pass can, at time,s be a good spring producer as well.

If you like bottom fishing, shad, mullet, mackerel and catfish tails are all top choices, and don’t be surprised if a big snook or shark is your bycatch while tarpon fishing.

Slow trolling live baits is another great option, and has produced tarpon quite a few times for me, sometimes just 50 yards or so off the beach. I just idle slowly along, occasionally taking the motor out of gear while making trolling passes in an S pattern, my baits covering shallow to deeper waters. Stagger two baits behind the boat and put the rods in holders. Only pick them up when they are deeply bent.

With lots of bait swimming in local waters, the bite is on. This might be the year you learn to cast net your own.

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