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Fishing | Change is in the air and fishing conditions should improve

By CAPT. GEORGE TUNISON - Fishing | Feb 22, 2024

Capt. George Tunison

Once you’re out at the 80-foot and beyond mark, red grouper, mangrove and lane snapper, porgies and grunts are already waiting for you and the crew to drop down treats. Closer to the coast GPS numbers will still put you on the best sheepshead fishing of the year but it won’t last too much longer as change is in the air.

Migratory saltwater fish and the baitfish that sustain them are on the move along both sides of the peninsula as well as inland in places like Lake Okeechobee where the shad spawn will draw largemouth anglers to the lake for fast action. During the spawn, shad-looking Rattle Trap lures can really put lots of bass of all sizes in the boat.

Locally the trout bite keeps getting better but in this part of Florida expect lots of action but not a lot of bigger or “gator” sized specimens as you would encounter in north Florida. Our delicate juvenile fish deserve protection and healthy release practices and, by all means, release the larger fish to keep those genes in the pool. Bending down tissue-tearing hook barbs may be the number one way to help small trout survive catch and release. Rough handling with dry hands, wrapped in towels, dropped and/or flopping around the bottom of the boat isn’t good for any fish, especially small delicate scaled fish like trout. Best bet is to not handle the fish at all.

Again, start by crushing the barb on your hook. After playing the fish to the boat, keep it in the water then release it by simply grabbing the hook shank with needlenose pliers, turn your hand over and the fish simply slides off and back to freedom without being touched.

Larger local snook are still wearing insulated snow suits but starting to daydream about their upcoming swim to the Gulf and beach-side summer flings. Actually as it warms up, the first order of snooky business will be to put on the feed bag to fatten up for the trip and soon fresh net caught baits will start a feeding frenzy along the right shorelines. Lure anglers will do well with white bait imitating suspending twitch baits like MirrOdines.

Won’t be long before we see reports of tarpon off Knapp’s Point but if you just can’t wait to do battle, the Keys are calling your name. Trailer down or hire a guide service as it’s already on. While there, go shallow and try for a bonefish or permit for an incredible angling thrill on light tackle.

Many other excellent winter opportunities are within a few hours’ drive. The east coast sailfish bite is still going strong. A friend just invited me over to the east coast for the “running of the rays” when giant mantas cruise the beaches with jumbo hungry cobia riding their backs looking to smash your colorful jig. What a thrill that is! Good to live in the fishing capitol of the U.S.A.

Always a great sign to see lots of juvenile redfish and snook around the bushes on both sides of Charlotte Harbor this season but small is the winter word right now with an occasional slot-sized snook or red mixed in.

We have the fish now trying to survive but pollution woes continue to degrade the local underwater environment promoting deadly summer red tide events and serious human health hazards. Now add the ever-increasing population, pollution and pressure of hundreds of new boaters and anglers each year all wanting to enjoy local waters. Soon we may have to cast up into the trees to catch fish hiding in the woods.

As long as we continue year after year to be the dumping ground for Lake O toxic discharges plus our own contaminated storm water run-off and septic contributions and ever increasing angling and boating pressure, a rocky road could lie ahead.

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.