I can’t predict the future, but everything has come back to life for now. We looked around and fished some on Sunday and Tuesday last week and everything is looking up. Sunday the waters were still stirred up, but baitfish were everywhere. Scattered striking fish were active from Englewood Beach to Boca Grande along our beaches. We even saw a bunch of tarpon cruising the Gulf Beaches eating minnows. Tuesday evening we saw striking fish from the surf line as far as we could see into the Gulf. Birds are back too; hundreds of pelicans, terns, seagulls and all. It’s great to see our waters come back to life again.
It’s tough to out-guess nature. The hurricane seems to have cleared out our waters. My best guess is that our mackerel migration has started. Expect to enjoy hot action when winds allow us outside to fish. Some Spanish mackerel have already come inshore.
Because they’re scattered everywhere, I’d try trolling spoons. Match your lure size to the fish and the baitfish you observe. Planers or lead sinkers help you fish deeper. Fish will sometimes feed up at the surface and sometimes down near the bottom. Watch your sonar and fish the activity you see. Lipped lures can work for macks but are really great for kings.
King mackerel are bigger and even more exciting than the Spanish. Some kings are in deeper waters already. More kingfish will show up once we get water temperatures down to the mid 70s. The water is extremely warm as our daytime highs are still pushing 90 degrees. The Gulf off Fort Myers was 84 last week. It will cool off as air cools — soon, I hope.
If you like action and want some fish to carry home, this mackerel migration is your ticket to glory and happiness! If you take time to gear up properly and learn a few basic skills, you can be the hero. Shore anglers are restricted, but boaters have it made. Stop by a local tackle shop and ask for help.
Many of the old timers are more knowledgeable about trolling hardware, since this kind of fishing was a big thing before they shut us down on kings back in 1986. These migrations were the hot ticket. Everyone that had a craft that floated loaded up people and went fishing. We caught boatloads of fish and had fun catching them. The complete shutdown by National Marine Fisheries destroyed this fishery, but it’s time for a rebirth! They want us to catch and enjoy more mackerel now.
Both mackerel are underfished by rec anglers. They have liberal bag limits: 15 Spanish and three kings per licensed angler. You will need a bunch of ice for that much meat. Both are great eating if iced and prepared properly. Please keep all you can use but do not waste our resources. These are best fresh, not frozen. Share with family and friends to enjoy now. If you have too many, get the smoker going.
Grouper and snapper are open also (except for red snapper), and fall is an excellent time for offshore action when the weather allows safe travels. The fish have moved around a lot with the stormy weather and algae blooms. You may need to check several spots, but the rewards are there for the persistent.
Personally, I enjoy the snapper fishing more than grouper now. Many grouper are undersized unless you want to head out past 30 miles, but most snapper are large enough and we get many more bites (and everything is fun with more action). You will need to drop down in gear and hook sizes for snapper. Live shrimp are great, but chunks of squid or minnows also produce excellent action and tasty eating. You’ll pick up a few grouper by accident. Those king and Spanish also sneak in and add excitement, and meat for the coolers.
You’ll want to keep a few wire rigs ready for the toothy kings. I use heaver mono for mackerel. We get some cutoffs but a lot more bites than when we use wire. Again, spend the time to get to know the knowledgeable local tackle shop staff for expert advice. Local area guides are all hungry now and offer even better first-hand learning experiences.
Don’t try to beat folks up about prices; no one gets rich at local tackle shops or guiding. We love it and are dedicated. Everyone along the waterfront can use a lift after getting beat down by bad news lately. Remember that a rising tide lifts all ships!
I’m hearing excellent reports about snook and redfish all around our area, and some good trout stories too. Everyone is excited that we are enjoying better action than we could have expected. Those closures on reds and snook will help stocks bounce back to pre red tide numbers.
Everything is moving around these days as cooler weather prepares to set in, so don’t get stuck in one place too long. Expect the fish to move a lot more as weather fronts alter conditions. Consistent circumstances allow fish to school up, but changes send them running. Take advantage of weather patterns and enjoy great fishing action!
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.