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On the Water: It was a perfect week out on the water

February 21, 2018
By Capt. Bill Russell , Pine Island Eagle

From beginning to end, I don't think you could have asked for better weather over the past week. Beautiful blue-sky days, daytime temperature in the 80s and light winds opened endless fishing opportunities around Southwest Florida.

Inshore, the spotted sea trout fishing is getting better each day. Not only are the numbers increasing but the average size as well. Trout were reported throughout Pine Island Sound in depths from 3 to 6 feet, with good numbers of fish in the upper slot and a few up to 25 inches. South Matlacha Pass near the powerlines and flats averaging the same depth on the gulf side of the Sanibel Causeway also yielded good trout reports. Most were caught on live shrimp or pilchards under a popping cork and DOA shrimp and shad tails.

With the warm weather, snook are on the move and hungry. Generally, February is iffy at best for hooking snook, but just like the larger trout the snook action appears to get better daily. Snook to 35 inches were caught and released along shorelines off St. James, Island Points in Matlacha Pass, and throughout Pine Island Sound in sand holes, shorelines, oyster bars and around docks. Nighttime anglers also hooked and released a few snook from the Matlacha Draw Bridge and the Sanibel Fishing Pier. Best baits included top water lures early and late in the day, cut ladyfish, live shrimp and pilchards. Snook season is closed until next month, all fish must be quickly released.

Article Photos

Warmer weather is turning on the snook bite. Ken Hersey of Outer Banks, N.C., caught and released this 31-inch snook over the weekend while fishing Matlacha Pass with Capt. Bill Russell


The best way to hook into a redfish was to locate schooling mullet in the shallows not to distance from a shore line, post up and soak a half dozen chunks of cut bait on bottom in all directions. Incoming tide produced best with redfish up to 32 inches reported. Ladyfish and mullet were the baits of choice.

A boost in sheepshead action was reported by many over the week. Concentrations of schooling fish were located around most of the Gulf passes, the Bokeelia and Sanibel fishing piers, and deeper shorelines with hard bottom. The best bait was shrimp rigged on a jig head or a small hook with a light weight. Sheepshead are ganging up for their spawn; the mass will move offshore in the near future, where you find them today you may not find them tomorrow. This stretch of warm weather may push them offshore sooner than expected. Black drum and mangrove snapper were also hooked with the sheepshead.

Nearshore reefs also held good concentrations of sheepshead over the week. The best action came from depths between 25 and 40 feet. Again, shrimp was the favored bait rigged on a jig head, knocker rig or a short leader and swivel with a sliding egg sinker above. Snapper, grunts and gag grouper were also caught. Gag grouper season is closed, if you are lucky enough to get one above 24 inches to the boat it must be released to catch another day. Some days the offshore reports were really good and other days it was a struggle, but that's fishing.

In two weeks our weather went from one extreme to another, near record breaking cold to near record-breaking heat. If this continues our great spring fishing well be here early; actually it feels like it's already started. I heard more than one report this week of tarpon hook-ups in Pine Island Sound, we are seeing large schools of baitfish, plus plenty of other indicators that are about a month early. Fish do not have a calendar to tell them the seasons, they follow the water temperature, and when it keeps getting warmer they react. If the weather holds, good fishing should continue and only get better. Get out there!

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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