The month of March is the beginning to some of the best fishing of the year in Southwest Florida. With the arrival of March we should expect warmer days that will jump-start spring fishing, and we closed out the month of February with some pretty mild days. With a rise in water temperature, the bait fish migrations well begin as large bait schools move into our waters. With the combination of warm water and a huge influx of food, look for predator and game fish to get very hungry as the month progresses. Spring is a great time to fish.
Inshore sea trout fishing should get better and better as the weeks pass, and not just in numbers but also in size. We will see an increase in large trout, often called "gators," with some measuring 24 inches or larger. The trout are often schooled in similar size, if you are only catching small ones, make a move, sometimes a slight move is all that's needed. Although live shrimp are catching plenty, the larger trout are often keying on oily baitfish. On the calm mornings, look for big fish prowling the shallows where a properly worked top-water plug can be deadly. A swim or crank bait is a great choice in depths from 3 to 6 feet during mid-day and, of course, if you can catch some live pilchards, thread herring or pinfish, you really tip the scale in your favor to land some big trout.
Spanish mackerel should invade local waters and often in large numbers. Inshore, look for them over areas with a mixed grass bottom in 4 to 9-foot depths. Bluefish, trout, jack crevalle, big ladyfish, sharks and cobia are often feeding over the same bottom. If you have family down visiting over spring break, this type fishing can provide fast action and lots of smiles. Also, look for mackerel schooling near any of the Gulf passes, inlets and a short distance off the beaches. Big blacktip and spinner sharks love eating mackerel - keep a heavier rod, rigged and ready if you have the desire to do battle with these impressive fighters. The first tarpon of the season should also make an appearance off the beaches.
Look for improved snook fishing as season reopens. Jim Manelli of Chicago hooked this slot-size snook in upper Pine Island Sound fishing with Capt. Bill Russell.
Our first spring high tides of the year are a good time to hook into redfish under the mangrove shorelines and along oyster bars. Fish on average should be larger than the winter months, with most running in the 18 to 27-inch slot plus a few oversize reds. While targeting these areas for reds, it's common to hook some of the largest trout of the season, plus snook.
Snook season is open for the next two months (March and April) on our coast. Although it's difficult to land one in the small 5-inch slot (28-inch minimum 33-inch maximum), snook of any size are a blast to catch and most anglers choose to release all snook caught. Please make an effort to carefully handle all snook to be released; it's a great habit to do this with any fish to be released, no matter what the species.
A short distance offshore around nearshore reefs anglers will find a mixed bag including snapper, sheepshead, grunts, porgy, pompano, mackerel and a few larger fish looking for a battle that could include cobia, king mackerel, barracuda, tarpon, false albacore or bonito, and, of course, sharks. March is notoriously a windy month but there should be some calm days to get offshore.
A lot of visitors are down from the North this month for spring break. If you have friends or family visiting and you have access to a boat, I'll bet they would appreciate a day on the water. This is a great month for fishing or just to be outdoors as the water just seems to come to life. There's wildlife everywhere, from dolphin to manatees and birds of all sort and sizes. And with fishing there are a lot of different fish on the move, you just don't know what you may hook into!
Have a safe week and good fishin'.
As a native of Pine Island, Bill Russell has spent his entire life fishing and learning the waters surrounding Pine Island and as a professional fishing guide for the past 18 years.