Did someone tell you Southwest Florida fishing is dead? Forget what you’re hearing on the news and social media. We have lots of fish in most of the Harbor. Not everything is dead — I’ll be happy to prove it if you want to go catch some!
Big bull redfish have moved in from offshore. This is my second-favorite time of the year (my favorite is when the tarpon show up, which are still in Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande very heavy). Bull redfish (over about 34 inches) live offshore and only come in this time of year to school up with the juvenile redfish in the estuaries. Those big fish will move in through our passes and into the Harbor.
Once they’re in, they don’t go everywhere. These big fish like deepwater access, so they are going to be found mostly in areas where they can get back to the safety of deeper water. They do move up into our flats and sandbars to feed. When the dolphins find them, they will run back to the deeper water. Dolphins can hunt them a lot more effectively in shallower water.
When I target the big bulls, I like to go to sandbars. I specifically look for the bars that have the largest schools of mullet. Sometimes they’ll eat the mullet, but that’s not the main reason the reds hang out near them. When you get a lot of mullet in one area, they stir up the bottom as they feed, kicking up all sorts of food for the redfish: Shrimp, pinfish, crabs, worms, etc. That makes it easier for the fish to find food. They’re just like us — they’re pretty lazy and don’t want to work too hard to eat.
Once I find an area that’s holding a lot of mullet, I’ll set my boat up in the shallower part. I can’t fish where there is no water for those big fish to be in, so I might as well use it as a parking spot. I always try to anchor up when fishing schools. If you chase them, they will never stop and you’ll be chasing them all day.
After I get set up, I get my baits where the mullet are moving around. You can use shrimp or most any cut fish, but my favorites are cut blue crab and cut pinfish. Most people say they hate using cutbait because they catch a lot of catfish, and nobody likes catching them. One thing that I do to avoid catfish is go big. Hardhead catfish have small mouths. If you use a almost a fist-size piece of bait, most catfish can’t get it in their mouths — so you barely catch any.
With baits in the water, we wait for the fish. Sometimes it’s only moments; sometimes longer. And once you catch a few, it might go dead for a little bit. But be patient — most the time, these fish just go up and down the same areas all day long back and forth.
The tackle that I like to use is a 7.5-foot 10-20 Reaper rod, 20- or 30-pound braid and 20- or 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. I always put my cut bait on a Rockport Rattler jighead (3/0 or 4/0 hook, quarter-ounce weight) so that my bait gets to the bottom and doesn’t drag through the grass or move. The reason why I don’t use really big gear for them is because you are majority of the time in open water and you can let that fish run a little bit — you don’t have to worry about pulling that fish out of structure.
If you don’t enjoy fishing live or cut bait, you can catch them on lures too. I like to throw gold spoons (weedless, so that I am not catching any grass on the hook). Bouncing it off the bottom like a jig is how I seem to do the best. I also like to throw Gulp shrimp (4-inch in natural, molting or white colors). Most of the time I use a Rockport Rattler, but I’ll also rig them weedless too. Sometimes I’ll fish a Gulp shrimp like you would a live one — just throw it out and let it sit.
This is the time of year to get some great photos of you with your big trophy bull redfish, so get off Facebook. Take advantage of the clean water and great weather to go fishing, because the bite is on.
Capt. Karl Butigian lives, breathes and eats Florida fishing. He owns and operates KB Back Country Charters (KBBackCountryChartersFishing.com) on the waters of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. To book a trip or for info, call him at 941-565-7325.