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Fishing | Nearshore reefs holding a wide variety of fish

By CAPT. GEORGE TUNISON - Fishing | Dec 7, 2023

Capt. George Tunison

Nearshore reefs are hosting quite a few varieties of fish, including delicious snapper with lots of hungry sheepshead mixed in. Expect to continue to find Spanish macs and kings together from the passes to out past the nearshore reefs. The kingfish aren’t big with most less than a yard long but still big fun on small tackle.

Spanish macs are always a high speed blast on ultra-lite rods. Pompano are a hit or miss right now. Getting lots of reports of hogfish off of Englewood and Sarasota reefs and they should be showing up soon locally. If you haven’t tasted this fish, by all means do as it’s one of the best Southwest Florida has to offer.

Bait fish are getting tougher to find so pick your favorite artificial and go to work, slowly. There’s lots of smaller snook and various sized redfish around mangrove shorelines on both sides of Charlotte Harbor.

With the huge variety of freshwater lipped crankbaits available, why should bass anglers have all the fun? If, like me, you really enjoy casting, don’t overlook these lures for snook around cover. Granted, an already cold-slowed snook isn’t interested in a wiggling largemouth bass crankbait flying by at summer speeds, but a bait slowly wiggling down to its depth then stopping, suspending right in its face, eye to eye, then a subtle rod tip twitch or two, as in subtle, might just look to good to pass up.

With snook moving upriver and before prolonged cold sets in, river docks are great crankbait territory, if you can train yourself to fish slowly and methodically. Today, anglers have an incredible variety of today’s high-tech baits to choose from in shallow to deep-diving models and in every color under the sun, as well as in ultra-realistic finishes. Set up a couple rods with both, but learning how to fish a largemouth deep diver very slowly from the shallow back of the dock down the depths to the end coupled with frequent suspending pauses is the drill.

Right now snook are stretched out from the passes to far upriver and any structure along the way may hold fish. Actually we have river snook from coast to coast. With a chill in the air and in the water, I start my Caloosahatchee snook hunt on moving tide, warming trend afternoons at Beautiful Island around the RR trestle, then move up to the 75 bridge area and often into Thompsons Cutoff. Another good choice is after exploring the 75 bridge, take a right and spend a warm afternoon casting the Orange River.

Besides taking your crankbait outfits upriver, take along your DOA Shrimp back-up outfit if you need to slow down your presentation even further. In these warmer upriver winter waters, don’t be surprised if a hungry redfish or even tarpon inhales your bait and also be warned that the biggest jacks, maybe in all of Southwest Florida, hang out every winter around the RR trestle and the 75 bridge structure. Scary big!

If you’re lucky enough to land a big snook this winter, by all means do not hang it vertically for a picture. Grip tightly by the jaw and support the fish horizontally under the belly area for a quick pic and return to the water. With any large fish, a keep-it-in-the-water-release is always best.

Cold weather and trout fishing go hand-in-hand. Start casting or break out the bobbers and wind drift over a dark grass flat with a live shrimp, baitfish or one of a ton of artificial grubs, paddle tails, Mister Twisters, plastic shrimp, Gulp Shrimp, artificial flies or even tiny MirrOdine hard baits below it. Consider bending down hook barbs to make releasing small fish easier with less tissue damage.

When the real cold comes and stays, trout and other inshore gamefish will relocate to deep creeks, channels, deep canals and marinas to survive.

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