When is it not a great time to be in Southwest Florida? OK, if you are looking at the heat of August into September, sure, there are places we could go to be more comfortable. And yeah, it’s a given that there are better places to be when a hurricane shows up here. No one wants to go through one of those things.
But skip the weather. I’m talking about in terms of fishing. Who wouldn’t want to be here? The Charlotte Harbor area is blessed with a year-round fishery that is hard to beat no matter where you go! It’s still hot (95 degrees as I write this), but the days are getting shorter. This means that the sun doesn’t have as much time to heat the water as it did a month ago, and the angle of the sun has changed too.
Long story short, our coastal and backcountry waters are beginning to get cooler. The changes in temperature and day length give our fish the “winter is coming” signal. What that means for us is that our fishing is just going to get better. Snook, reds and trout are here all year (and so are some finicky tarpon), but now we can add a few more favorites to our list of particulars.
The coastal travelers start moving through again, trying to stay in their water temp and bait comfort zone. The selection really grows along with our fishing options at this point in time. Cobia, Spanish mackerel, kingfish and bonito are showing up. I’m especially happy to see the bonito (or, if you prefer, little tunny or false albacore), since they’re one of my absolute favorites on a fly.
On the mornings when the wind cooperates and lays down a little, it’s easier for those of us who run smaller boats and skiffs to venture out into the Gulf to look for these marauding schools. You probably know the signs to look for: Big schools of bait, breaking fish, and of course the birds that will be attacking the bait from above as the fish push the bait to the surface. What a blast it is to cast a fly into the blitz and hook up to a 10-pound torpedo we call a bonito.
While you’re out there, keep your eyes open for cruising cobia. They don’t school like the macks and bonito, but they like to be around the edges of the frenzies. You will also find these fish back in the Harbor. A well-placed fly stripped very fast will usually entice these guys to eat. If it happens, hang on! A cobia will really put up a battle on any type of gear.
Normally, I like throwing bigger flies to these fish, so a 10 weight and up is a good tool to have on board to toss those bigger flies up to 5/0. It’s not a bad idea to have a 10 weight on board just in case you happen to run into a school of big redfish out there too. This time of year it’s a good possibility. Those big reds can be handled on your 8 weight, but that 10 is a comfortable security blanket to have on board when those bigger fish are a possibility.
If it’s not working for you out in the Gulf, head for the Harbor and backcountry. Don’t forget to check the sandbars and flats adjacent to whatever pass you come in. Those big reds that you didn’t find in the Gulf may have come in to feed up on one of those flats.
If you do find a school be very careful how you approach them. Don’t push them with the boat, or the possibility of catching any of them may be over. Try to get ahead of the fish, stay back from what you think their path will be, cast early and to the outside of where you think the school will pass. If you can pick them off from the outside, chances are you can lead the fish out without spooking the rest of the school. This will give you another chance to reposition the boat and get another shot, or two, or three.
Again keep your eyes peeled as you head over open water for the telltale signs of bait or breaking fish. Mackerel and bluefish have been moving in the Harbor and into the back bays. Ladyfish are also busting bait, and there will frequently be tarpon with them.
There are still snook on the beaches, but they will soon be moving back to the rivers and creeks. The snook are going to be hungry after their spawn and will definitely eat a well-placed fly. Poppers are still good for the snook and the trout early and late in the day. Baby tarpon are still available. Right now, the east side bars creeks and canals seem to be the best for them.
I had another newbie on the boat this morning. Nancy and June came down from Michigan for a visit to the area. They saw dolphins playing and jumping. Nancy went crazy over a group of manatees that hung out by the boat; that was a first for her. The white pelicans that have shown up already were also a new sight for both of them.
June has fished for a long time and handled the rod well. Nancy was the newbie and caught her first fish ever — a cute little red (plus others). No, it wasn’t one of the big bruisers that we have around right now, but it will do for the first one! Trout, snook, ladyfish, mangrove snapper, reds and more came to the boat on our half day trip. The howling wind didn’t seem to bother them at all.
Take advantage of the early fall fishing and remember, it’s only going to get better.
Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.