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On the Water: December will provide more great days of fishing

December 4, 2019
By Capt. Bill Russell , Pine Island Eagle

We were greeted with beautiful weather over the past week to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday and close out the month. Despite reports of red tide, especially across areas of Charlotte Harbor, fishing was good, and it was a great time to enjoy on the water. This month will give us more great days on the water.

December is that month we make the transition and shrimp become the primary diet for most inshore fish. Apart from mullet (a pure vegetarian), there are not any fish I can think of in our coastal waters that won't eat a shrimp. Shrimp is the mainstay diet for many, if not most, of our fish, especially through the cooler months. When the water temperature drops to the point that bait fish leave our local waters, then shrimp becomes the go-to bait.

Cooler weather will give a big boost for catching sheepshead as the larger ones move inshore and over nearshore reefs. Numbers were on the rise over the past week and will continue with the cooler weather. Look for them, with many scaling over 5 pounds, around structure, including dock and bridge pilings, rock jetties along the beach, oyster bars, mangrove shorelines and most nearshore artificial reefs and hard bottom in the Gulf within sight of land. Seasoned anglers fish shrimp on a jig head or a small, very sharp hook with just enough weight to reach the bottom. Small crabs are also a great bait. If you don't mind fishing in the cold, this is your fish, the colder the better for sheepshead. Unlike sheepshead from the northern states, ours are excellent on the table.

Article Photos

Bruce Sewell and his fishing crew scored with a great catch of grouper and snapper. They were fishing 100-foot depths west of Captiva with Capt. Sean McQuade.


Pompano are like sheepshead in the fact that they will not eat any type of baitfish, but feed primarily on small crustaceans, including shrimp, crabs, sand fleas and mollusks. Small nylon-jigs tipped with a piece of shrimp is deadly on pompano when properly bounced across the bottom. Popular colors are white, pink and yellow. Silly Willy-style jigs have also gained a lot of popularity over recent years. Sheepshead and pompano have relatively small mouths, so it is important to use a small hook. If you are unsure of the size, stop in at your local tackle shop and let them hook you up and give you some pointers.

Snook, sea trout and redfish remained closed season with catch and release only, but still fun to target and catch. Look for trout moving off the shallow grass flats to deeper protected areas as temperatures drop with arriving cold fronts. Deep areas around oyster bars, creeks, canals and potholes are good areas to target. Redfish and snook can be found from the same area, plus larger reds can be sight-fished on the lower tides over shallow flats adjacent to deeper water. Again, shrimp is the best bait, either the real thing or any of the many imitations.

Offshore, we can expect hook-ups with a mix of species around nearshore reefs, ledges and hard bottom. Bottom dwellers like sheepshead, snapper, flounder, grouper, grunts, pompano, and permit are a good possibility. Also, Spanish and king mackerel, barracuda, big snook and cobia are likely to get in on the action at any time. Further offshore in deeper depths, reports were good to close out November of big red and gag grouper along with snapper and porgy.

If you are on the water and come across a patch of bad water where you may notice a few floating fish or you can feel it in your throat, the best thing is to run a little further. It appears most outbreaks are mild and mostly killing small bait fish and catfish. Move until you find good water, fishing has been good for anglers targeting areas of clean water. Water temperature will drop again this week and that should also help.

If your looking for that perfect gift, we have holiday gift certificates available.

If you have a fishing report or for charter information, please contact Gulf Coast Guide Service at 239-410-8576 (call or text); on the web at; or via email at

Have a safe week and good fishin'.

As a lifetime resident of Matlacha and Pine Island, Capt. Bill Russell has spent his life fishing and learning the waters around Pine Island and southwest Florida, and as a professional fishing guide for the past 23 years.



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