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On the Water: Sheepshead bite heats up around Southwest Florida

January 17, 2018
Pine Island Eagle

Cold fronts brought a drop in water temperature that put the sheepshead bite in high gear on the waters around Southwest Florida. An influx of fish was reported throughout the area both inshore and offshore.

Sheepshead were reported around the Gulf passes including Boca Grande, Captiva, Redfish, Blind and around structure at either end of the Sanibel Causeway. Nearshore reefs in 30 to 40-foot depths yielded a good bite on the few days the winds were light. Shore bound anglers scored while fishing from the Bokeelia and Sanibel fishing piers, plus Blind Pass.

Shrimp was the bait of choice rigged in various ways, including knocker rigs, split-shot and hook and shrimp/ jig head combination. A few hard-core anglers also had success with larger fish while using mud crabs or oysters for bait. A few black and red drums were also hooked mixed with the sheepshead under the piers.

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Nothing is better than a daddy/daughter day of fishing. Paul Hendrix brought his daughter Savanna from Stuart, Florida, to Matlacha for a little fishing. They were rewarded with hard fighting and good eating sheephead while fishing around the gulf passes with Capt. Bill Russell.


Good numbers of redfish, most in a smaller size, were caught around creeks and oyster bars in south Matlacha Pass and "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge. Average size was about 15 inches with an occasional larger fish. Sheepshead, small snook and snapper were also caught from these areas.

Trout fishing was a little better this week as they have adjusted to the change in water temperature. Fish to 19 inches were caught in 4 to 6-foot sand holes near Pineland, west of Galt Island, and near Buck Key. Best baits included live shrimp, DOA and GULP shrimp under popping corks, and a gold spoon with a slow retrieve.

Sandwiched between cold fronts there were a couple good days with light winds for the offshore boats. Fog was dense on many mornings but generally lifted by mid-morning. While making the offshore run, observant eyes located a few good tripletails hanging under buoys where a DOA crab properly presented resulted in hook-ups.

A mix of bottom fish including grunts, porgy's, lane and mangrove snapper, plus sheepshead, were found over hard bottom in depths from 40-65 feet. A few keeper size red grouper were found in depths from 60-90 feet.

We been waiting for the cooler temperature to spark the sheepshead and that happened. Most are early in their pre-spawn cycle, so I expect a month or so of good action with some big fish.

If you have a fishing report of for charter information, please contact us at: Gulf Coast Guide Service, phone: 239-283-7960, Website: or email:

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.



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