After a brutally hot summer, it’s finally time for us to cool off here in Southwest Florida. Hurricane Michael blew past last week; we all pray for the Panhandle folks who got hammered. That was a nasty storm — Cat 4 as it hit, just the tiniest bit below a Cat 5. While it missed us, it moved a lot of water around the Gulf. Fish will reestablish themselves as things calm down. We are all hoping it blows our red tide away, but no one knows for sure yet. Time will tell.
Locally we have endured harmful algae blooms, devastating our fisheries. It has all but shut our water-related business down for the last three months. The red tide was bad, but also isolated most of the time. What’s important is that we do still have fish and fishing!
Many of those trying are discovering some of their best catching ever. I know that’s a bold statement, but many are catching at numbers not enjoyed in several decades. Some areas are depleted, but others are holding concentrated schools of quality fish. You might have to look around, but there are also fewer boats than any other time in recent memory. Adventure is for those bold enough to look for it. If you don’t try, you can’t find fish — or joy, for that matter.
Fall fishing is here. Specific water temperatures and winds will dictate exactly what species we have available. Conditions are changing on a day-to-day basis. It’s rumored a mild front will have helped some as we read this. Remember that snook and redfish are closed here now because of fish kills. Just please handle them properly so they grow and reproduce — closures only help if the fish live. Trout are still open. You might need to ride more while fish-hunting, but it’s worth the effort. We have other inshore fish to enjoy: Pompano, mackerel, jacks etc. Again, everything is moving with changing conditions.
The big deal for me now is that it’s prime time for both Spanish and king mackerel. This storm is sure to send them our way in force, and rapidly! These are abundant sporty fish that will be migrating through any time, following baitfish schools. They are fun, fast and very aggressive. You can use most lures (spoons, jigs, hard plugs) and of course live baits. We enjoy liberal bag limits; in fact, both are underutilized species. If you carry enough ice to chill them properly, you will find them excellent options for table fare.
This is the best bet for beginners to enjoy success and action. Boats certainly help in getting us to these fish, but we do have some shore-based opportunities. The Venice Pier can produce good action on Spanish and some kings, and Spanish are regularly caught from the Placida and Ainger piers.
Your target and destination will depend on wind speeds and direction. Soon we will have cold fronts to work around. On cooler windy days, we still have sheltered and protected places to safely catch fish. Trout, for example, bunch up on cooler days.
On calmer days, venture out into the Gulf and try some mackerel action. Both species are super-fast and will grab your attention when they seize your offering. The kings are bigger and will challenge your tackle. These fish are constantly moving and scream off line when hooked. Be ready or scratch your head trying to figure out what happened after they are long gone.
Spanish are smaller prizes, but worthy opponents. Use smaller gear for them. Just remember that elephants do eat peanuts. I like 15- to 20-pound gear. You’ll want a smooth drag and at least 300 yards of line. This gives you better odds at landing that big one when it bites. We regularly land 30-plus pound kings while fishing for Spanish on lighter gear.
Mono can be an advantage here because it stretches more, which prevents pulling hooks. Remember that with braid, smooth action lands fish, jerking loses fish. The mono stretch forgives most of the jerky movements. Remember that braid is much smaller diameter, allowing those longer runs without running out of string. Learn to work with your choice.
Look for baitfish and screaming flocks of gulls to locate feeding fish. Many times, you can observe the striking fish to determine species. Take time to figure out approach and gear you want to deploy for specific species. Jacks, ladyfish and sharks are all fun, but mackerel taste better.
Boats with bent poles are also accurate indicators; just please don’t disturb who folks that showed you the fish. Both mackerel usually are in larger schools and you can catch fish without running over each other. Work around the fish and boats, not through them. If you allow me to do my job, I’m glad to help if you need it. But don’t bite the hands that feed you!
Grouper and snapper are also available. They were not hurt as bad by red tide and taste great. Again, match the gear to the size of fish for best results. Action keeps people happy. Big fish are great, but bent poles get smiles. We should enjoy hot action whenever we can venture offshore.
A fisherman’s life isn’t always easy. If it was easy, everyone could do it. But adventures are available if you are willing to work to find them. And remember, you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishin’, so let’s go fishin’ soon.
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.