I hate snow and cold. The Arizona desert where I grew up is covered in snow right now, which almost never happens in Phoenix. They can keep it.
Here in sunny Southwest Florida, we spent almost the whole month of February in the 80s. This means tarpon, sharks, cobia, whitebait and all the other late spring and summer fish will be here any moment. Some already are, at least in small numbers.
But don’t get too excited. We tend to have a short collective memory sometimes, especially when we are excited about something. Mother Nature is very likely to throw a curveball to put us back in check.
Last February we had about the same temperatures — overnight lows in the upper 60s, days in the mid-80s. But then last March, we were back to highs in the upper 70s, with several lows in the 40s — which put us back on track for a normal season. Yes, it stinks, but it’s no use to try fighting the weather.
And here we are again. As I write this, the forecast for today (March 7) predicts lows in the 40s. Déjà vu, all over again.
But next week’s forecast still looks amazing. If it turns out to be right, take advantage of the warm weather. The water is super clear in the Harbor, and the wind has been relatively minor. Some fish have been definitely acting like it’s April, and a warming trend will get them right back at it.
Juvenile tarpon from 10 to 50 pounds are up the Myakka River close to the U.S. 41 bridge in North Port, and the Peace River from Shell Creek to just north of the Nav-A-Gator. DOA Bait Busters, shad tails on a jighead, and live shrimp under a float are working. The Cape Coral and PGI canals have a lot of small tarpon that are cooperating also.
There is some whitebait out there in the southern part of the Harbor and ICW, and the small snook and trout will happily eat it. Please take only enough to fish with — there’s no need to black out the livewells. Remember each year it gets harder to find bait. This is not a never-ending resource.
The cobia have been around. Bigger ones are offshore on the reefs, but there have been some legal fish in the Harbor also — if you put in the time and gas to find them. Cruise the outside of the bar on the east or west side (might have to do both) and look for fish. While you do, troll a larger shallow-running lipped plug or spoon because there are also some very big jacks from 10 to 20 pounds.
If the wind is calm, the nearshore reefs are holding Spanish macks, cobia and a few permit, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a kingfish or two were around. Larger mangrove snapper and yellowtail are very good in 50 to 60 feet. You’ll need lots of chum to get them excited, then freeline live shrimp on a small circle hook jighead.
With the weather patterns we’ve been getting the last few years, this might be the new normal. It can make catching fish challenging because the pattern isn’t what we expect it to be. “I always catch them here this time of year” doesn’t apply. Be ready to experiment, expect to move a lot, and stay willing change things up. After all, that’s what Mother Nature does.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor and at 14531 N. Cleveland Ave. in North Fort Myers. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.