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On the Water: Transition to spring fishing should begin in February

January 31, 2018
Pine Island Eagle

With strong winds bringing unfavorable fishing conditions over the past week, there wasn't much to report. Let's look ahead, hope for better weather and see what February may bring.

Sometime in February the transition to spring should begin. It all depends on the weather - if warm it could begin the first couple weeks, but if we have a cold front or two of any magnitude it could push the transition back a few weeks or into March.

Inshore, look for sea trout fishing to get better and better as the month progresses, plus we will see a notable increase in large fish. If the fall trout fishing was any indication, we could see more big "gator" trout this spring than in many years. If the water remains relatively cold, bait fish will be sparse and trout at times sluggish; shrimp or shrimp imitations should be the bait of choice. If we have a couple weeks of warm weather, then you can expect bait to move back into the area, but for much of the month it's hard to beat anything that resembles a shrimp.

Article Photos

Rainy day tripletail

Clarence Johnson of Fort Myers braved a windy and rainy morning to score with this nice tripletail. Clarence was fishing in the gulf off Sanibel with Capt. Jason Ramer.


Catching undersize or "rat" redfish over the winter is a common problem, but that's a great sign for good things to come. We should note an increase of legal size fish as the month progresses; by the second half of the month look for fish to begin feeding under the bushes on high water. Shrimp or scented artificial are the top baits. If you have the patience to soak cut bait on bottom, one-inch ladyfish or mullet steaks are also deadly. Also look for redfish in sand potholes on low water and feeding along sand and oyster bars with the rising tides. There will also be some extreme low tides that give great opportunities for stalking tailing reds in the extreme shallows.

Inshore sheepshead fishing should peak this month as they finish up their spawning chores. Look for most of the larger fish around the gulf passes, on the beaches and schooling around structure both inside the passes and a short distance offshore. Remember, a small sharp hook works best when rigged with a small piece of shrimp or other crustacean with just enough weight to keep it on bottom. Be patient and bring plenty of bait, these stripped bandits are notorious bait stealers until you get the feel for the strike. If you do not have access to a boat, try one of the many public piers or bridges. Not only do sheepshead fight hard, they are also outstanding on the table.

Anglers fishing the previously mentioned areas for sheepshead are sure to score with a few pompano. They feed off the bottom, often hang around the same areas and love shrimp. You can also expect to catch them in many of the same areas that attract redfish or trout, areas like sand or pot holes and sand bar transitions are feeding stations for pompano that often travel in schools. While a live shrimp is hard to beat and works great, those that target pompano often throw artificials to cover more ground. Small pompano jigs with white, pink and yellow the most common colors have been catching pompano forever; you can really enhance these jigs with a small piece of fresh shrimp. Over the past year or so, the Silly Willy jig has become a pompano favorite. With these jig style baits, a moderately slow retrieve with a jigging motion to bounce the bait off bottom and simulate a fleeing crustacean is the key to success.

Offshore, if the weather cooperates we should see good opportunities for a variety of fish including reef dwellers like snapper, grouper, grunts, porgys and others. If the water begins to warm we might see Spanish and king mackerel making their way up the coast along with cobia, false albacore or bonito and even some blackfin tuna. Keep an eye out for tripletail and its not unheard of to run across early season tarpon a few miles off the beaches.

Although it is still officially winter, if we put a week or so of warm weather behind us, the transition to spring will begin. I might be jumping the gun early, but I am keeping my fingers crossed for an early transition - spring is my favorite time of year to 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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